An eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health disorder that can cause harm to the life of the affected individual. In fact, there are more than a million people across the UK said to be affected by eating disorders, and the problem appears to be getting worse. What anorexia nervosa does to the lives of those affected can be devastating; it can cause severe mental and physical health problems, and, in extreme cases, it can be fatal.
Anorexia Nervosa Explained
Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness that causes those affected to see themselves as imperfect. In a bid to keep their weight down or change their body shape, anorexics will severely restrict their calorie intake and may even cut out entire food groups that they perceive as being ‘bad’.
Those with the condition might exercise excessively or purge themselves by vomiting or taking laxatives. This all helps to reduce the number of calories their bodies have absorbed, which is their ultimate goal. They weigh themselves frequently and despite others seeing them as underweight, these individuals will believe that they are in fact overweight.
Since anorexics have a distorted view of themselves, they will usually challenge anyone who suggests they should eat. They will have a deep fear of gaining weight and will see themselves as much larger than they actually are. They are basically unable to see themselves in the same way that others do.
Most people assume that it is only young teenage girls who become affected by anorexia and blame society or the pressure to look a certain way for the illness. The truth is that what anorexia nervosa is caused by can vary from one person to another. There is no single cause for everyone. What is also true is the fact that anorexia can affect anyone, regardless of their age or gender.
How Serious is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia is a very serious condition that can cause severe consequences for the health of the affected individual. Restricting calories to such a low level mean that the body is not getting the nutrients it needs to thrive. The response is that the body will go into survival mode and will begin slowing down various functions to preserve energy.
Anorexia can also cause people to become isolated and withdrawn as they try to hide their eating habits from those around them. It can have a negative impact on relationships with family members and friends, and because it can lead to mental health problems such as depression and low self-esteem, many anorexics will try to self-medicate with substances such as alcohol or drugs. Others will self-harm, which can all cause friction without relationships.
As anorexics have a distorted body image, they will often become angry with loved ones who suggest they have a problem. They will challenge the idea that they should gain weight, and because they have a deep fear of getting fat or gaining any weight at all, they might become upset with those who suggest they should.
How to Spot the Signs of Anorexia
Family members often become worried about loved ones when they start to lose weight. Losing weight can be a sign of illness, but for anorexics, it is a deliberate attempt to shed as much body fat and weight as possible. Nevertheless, because those affected by this illness will try to hide their eating habits, the earliest signs are often missed.
It can be difficult for family members or friends to comprehend what anorexia nervosa looks like, but there are some signs that could indicate a problem. If you have noticed a decrease in weight in someone you love, you should be alert to the following signs:
- Being reluctant to eat with others
- Saying that he or she has already eaten or that they will eat later
- Lying about how much weight they have lost
- Missing meals – saying they are not hungry
- Eating only food that is considered low calorie or low fat
- Eating tiny amounts of food and spreading what is left around the plate
- Exercising excessively
- Disappearing into the bathroom quickly after meals
- Being preoccupied with food
- Cooking elaborate meals for others but not eating themselves.
What Anorexia Nervosa Does to the Mind and Body
The above is some of the behavioural signs of anorexia, but there are many other ways in which anorexia affects the mind and body. For example, anorexics will have an irrational fear of getting fat and will become preoccupied with becoming thin, even when to everyone else they are already painfully thin.
They may become very anxious around mealtimes and about the idea of eating in front of others. This can cause them to become isolated and withdrawn as they try to avoid eating with other people. As their illness progresses, it can cause many physical problems too:
- Trouble sleeping
- Menstrual problems
- Low body temperature
- Loss of libido
- Hair thinning or loss
- Development of fine hair on the body (this is known as lanugo)
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of muscle strength
- Physical weakness.
Over time, these problems will get worse. The effect on the body can lead to long-term issues such as osteoporosis, heart problems, infertility, and even organ failure.
Helping Someone with Anorexia
It can be devastating to watch what anorexia nervosa can do to a loved one, all the while knowing that there is very little you can do to help. There is no way to force someone to get treatment for a mental health problem such as anorexia, but that does not mean that you cannot try to encourage this person to seek help.
Overcoming anorexia can be a huge challenge, but the good news is that it is possible to get well again. Trying to make the person you love to see the damage that his or her illness is causing is often the hardest part of the process. In fact, just making the individual admit that the problem exists in the first place will be a major challenge.
Treatment for anorexia typically involves a range of different therapies all designed to change the way the patient thinks. Often, the cause of such an illness is buried deep and help from professional counsellors and therapists will be required to unearth the reasons it occurred in the first place.
Treatments such as individual counselling and group therapy can help, and the affected person may be treated with a specific behavioural therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT aims to help to identify the negative thought processes that have contributed to the illness. Once the maladaptive thoughts and beliefs have been identified, work can begin on challenging them and changing responses to such thoughts.
Treatment will aim to help develop new coping strategies and a positive attitude towards food. The affected person will need to learn that it is okay to put on weight, but this can be tough. For those with a deep-rooted fear of putting on weight, it can be difficult to change these feelings.
What should be known though is that it is possible to get better? Provided there is plenty of support and access to help from experienced professionals, there is every chance of going on to live a healthy life.
For more information on what anorexia nervosa is like and how you, if you are a sufferer, can beat it, please call us here at Addiction Helper today. We can provide the information you need and, if required, recommend a suitable treatment provider in your area. Please call to find out more about how we can help you.