Anorexia nervosa can affect anyone, of any age, and from any background, although it usually develops in young people between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five. Anorexia is more common in young women than men, but in recent years the number of young men being diagnosed with anorexia has increased.
What Is Anorexia?
Anorexia is one of the most dangerous eating disorders, characterised by severe weight loss due to extreme control of diet. Someone suffering from anorexia will usually control their food intake very carefully, eating only small amounts, skipping meals entirely, or only eating foods that contain very few calories. Anorexia sufferers often become obsessive about their weight and may weigh themselves frequently. They will usually strenuously deny having a weight loss problem, and will often see themselves as fat or obese when in fact, they are dangerously thin. Sufferers will often wear baggy clothes to conceal the shape of their body, meaning that others will often not notice their weight loss until it becomes severe.
Anorexia is a mental health issue, as the sufferer has a distorted view of themselves, and often their worth – seeing themselves as worthless, inadequate, or inferior in some way. Obsessive compulsive behaviours frequently appear alongside the control over food. In some ways, the anorexia sufferer is trying to gain some control over their environment, as they are unable to control the negative thoughts they have about themselves. The affected individuals may also exercise compulsively, and secretively, to increase their weight loss.
What Causes Anorexia?
The specific causes of anorexia are not known, as triggers for the disorder vary from one sufferer to the next. For many people, however, the disease seems to be triggered by a traumatic event, often events of bullying or teasing for teenagers, particularly teasing about weight or size. Anorexia does occur more frequently amongst people who are involved in activities where being thin is perceived as of value, such as ballet and other forms of dance, certain athletic sports, and, possibly the worst offender, modelling.
The constant bombardment of images glorifying certain types of body image that we receive daily from the media and social media, all of which are altered to make them more ‘perfect’, make it increasingly more challenging for our young people to feel positive about their own bodies.
For Dr Elizabeth McNaught, then Elizabeth Pollard, her fight with anorexia began after she broke her leg at the age of fourteen. The weeks in plaster meant that she put on weight, and when she returned to school, she was teased for being fat. Her schoolmates probably thought this was just light-hearted jesting, but for Lizzie, the ‘joke’ was a lot more serious. She started a new school shortly after, and when the first boy she encountered greeted her with ‘hello fatty’, she began to control what she was eating. The thought patterns of anorexia began to take hold.
Why Is Early Treatment for Anorexia So Important?
If anorexia is caught early, cognitive behavioural therapy is very successful in changing the thought patterns that an anorexic person has. The longer someone is left before treatment, though, the more those thought patterns will have taken hold and become ingrained. Once this happens, and the sufferer has become more adept at hiding his or her behaviour and avoiding eating, the more difficult it becomes to successfully treat the disease.
Returning to Lizzie’s story, both she and her parents believe that if she had received treatment in the first six months of her anorexia, then she could have been successfully cured. But although Lizzie’s mother noticed changes in her behaviour, when she confronted her daughter, Lizzie was horrified at the suggestion that she could be anorexic. Moreover, her father supported her, thinking she was just ‘going through a phase’. Says Lizzie now: “I think we were both in denial.”
Lizzie did eventually go to her GP because, as is very common in women who lose a lot of weight, her periods had stopped. She was referred for counselling, but she continued to lose weight. A few months later was admitted to Leigh House – a psychiatric inpatient centre for young people – and the nurses struggled to find her pulse, and her body had started to shut down. By this point, she had become so expert at avoiding food that even as an inpatient she continued to lose weight. It was not until she was threatened with being fed via a tube that she finally started to eat again.
Lizzie’s journey had a positive outcome, and when she began eating again, she realised that she had a choice, and she could choose to get better. Despite her illness, she had still managed to achieve the grades she needed to study medicine, and she is now working as a junior doctor. She is not cured and has regressed in her anorexia during stressful times, such as when she was organising her wedding and during her first term as a medical student, but she now has the tools, and resilience, to cope.
How Can I Get Help with Anorexia?
Early treatment gives a much higher chance of being fully cured of anorexia, so it is vital that you seek help for yourself, or your loved one as quickly as possible if you think you, or they, could be suffering from anorexia. At Addiction Helper, our experienced staff can guide you in finding the best treatment option for you, so please call us today.
Source: (B-eat) What is Anorexia?