An Insight Into Anorexia Nervosa
Distorted Body Image
Overview of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is a severe emotional disorder that impacts your mind and damages your body through self-induced starvation. The hallmarks of anorexia are a fear of "fatness" and a refusal to eat.
If you have anorexia, you've developed a fear of becoming fat that now encompesses your entire existence. You believe that you are always on the verge of becoming fat, regardless of what you weigh. You take steps to manage your fear of fatness by refusing to eat, even when you are extremely hungry.
By refusing to eat, you feel in control, which is central to your sense of well-being. You may binge and purge, you may use laxatives and diet pills to control your weight, and you may engage in compulsive exercising.
A Progressive Disease
Anorexia nervosa is a progressive disease that gets worse the longer it goes untreated. The longer someone struggles with the disease, the more health complications they will suffer, and the higher the chances are that the disease will eventually kill them.Anorexia nervosa causes:
- Damage to the heart muscle
- Heartbeat irregularities
- Low blood pressure
- Kidney damage, kidney failure
- Liver damage, liver failure
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Fertility problems
- Convulsions and seizures
As the disease progresses, the physical and the psychological side effects become interwoven, creating a demon difficult to defeat. The longer someone with anorexia goes untreated, the tighter the knot becomes between the physical and the psychological, trapped in a prison of distorted behaviors and thoughts.
People with this disease experience psychological effects that take on an addictive quality—the more deeply entrenched in the eating disorder, the more vital it seems and feels to the person suffering from the illness. Starvation begins to affect the mind of the sufferer, impairing brain processes and functions. The person struggling with the disease can no longer envision a life without it.
No Body is Perfect
What Does Anorexia Look Like?
If you have anorexia, maintaining control over what you eat and how much you weigh is of the highest importance. You are consumed with the need to be perfect in every aspect of your life, but always feel like you come up short.
Through controlling what you eat and how much you weigh, you are able to muster up some sense of control and order in what otherwise feels like a chaotic life.
This is how anorexia looks in different people struggling with the disease:
- Jenny is only eight years old but is watching her parents go through a difficult divorce. Everything she knew about life has been turned upside down. For some reason, Jenny finds that food is the one thing in her life she can control, and she becomes consumed with her weight.
- Nicole is 13 years old, and while her friends are all gossiping about boys, she feels completely alone. Her friends tell her that they worry about her weight, but she thinks that they're jealous. They all diet, so why can't she?
- Michelle is 18 years old and just got out of the hospital where she was being treated for malnutrition. Michelle is a straight A student, a varsity athlete, and about to be valedictorian of her class. She is nervous about college in the fall and has been skipping meals. She can't play sports because she is too underweight, so Michelle has been working out in secret. She knows that if she doesn't gain weight, she will lose her college scholarship, but she just can't stop.
- Polly is 54 yeas old and just finished a divorce with her ex-husband, who had been sleeping with his secretary. She has never had an issue with her weight or food, but lately she just hasn't been hungry. She keeps herself busy to avoid thinking about her life, too busy for meals. No one suspects a thing, they think Polly is going through a phase.
- Marie is 79 and has just been told by her children and doctor that she needs to move to an assisted living facility. She feels scared and alone. Marie has lived in the same home for 45 years, and it is where she raised her children. She feels like others are controlling every aspect of her life, so she takes control of her food.
Scales are for Fishes, Not for People
My Own Story with Anorexia
My name is Kathleen. I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 15 years old, but my eating disorder started when I was just 10 years old. My mom says it started even earlier than that.
I grew up with my father and two older brothers while my mom worked 80-hour weeks. I was a tomboy, but then I began to develop curves. My weight began to rise and I lost my boyish figure.
People teased me. I started running every day, and I hid any evidence of food that I ate. The weight began to fall off, but instead of concern, I received compliments. My anorexia thrived off of people commenting on my weight.
By the time I was brought to a therapist I was extremely malnourished and already entrenched in my eating disorder. I went to treatment center after treatment center, but the more people tried to take away my eating disorder, the more I clung to my disease.
I missed high school, I missed prom, I even missed my own graduation. I was hospitalized, shipped away to the leading eating disorder facilities in the country, but all I wanted was to the best—the best at my disease. It was all I had. I wasn't someone with anorexia, I was anorexic, and anorexia was me.
When I was almost 21 I was seeing a psychiatrist who was a leader in the field of eating disorders. He looked at me and told me that I would never recover, that I would die from my disease.
It has been almost 10 years since that day, and I am still here. I haven't been to another treatment center and I have stayed out of hospitals. My eating isn't perfect and neither is my life, but every day I keep fighting. Today I live my life to inspire others and show people suffering from anorexia that there is life beyond this disease.
Mental health professionals attempt to establish a basic working agreement with each other about what constitutes various psychological disorders. The DSM-IV's definition of the characteristics of anorexia include:
- refusal to maintain a minimum body weight (85% of the ideal weight for their age, gender and height)
- a fear of weight gain
- a distorted body image
- denial of one's actual body weight
- loss of menstrual periods in women
Those who don't meet the above criteria, but clearly have eating disorders, are diagnosed with something called EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). This diagnosis in and of itself can make someone with an eating disorder feel like a failure. They can't even meet the criteria for an eating disorder, how will they ever do anything right!
TEDx Talk on Eating Disorders
Obsessions With Weight, Food, and Calories
Behavioral and Psychological Traits
Those who struggle with anorexia nervosa suffer from certain behavioral traits, including:
- severe restriction of food intake
- ritualistic behaviors, such as only eating one food, eating foods in certain orders, compulsive calorie counting and excessive food cutting
- compulsive exercise
- hyperactivity as a result of the body going into starvation mode
- bingeing in secret
- using laxatives, enemas, diet pills or other weight loss methods to facilitate, or speed up weight loss that is unnecessary, and even dangerous
Besides the above behavioral changes someone with anorexia exhibits, there are also psychological traits common in those with anorexia. These include:
- a distorted body image
- an intense fear of fat
- basing one's self-image and self-esteem on one's weight
- preoccupation with control
- black and white thinking
If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia, you need to get help as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it can be to recover.