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Anorexia nervosa has the highest rate of mortality of any psychological disorder.
The literal meaning of the word “anorexia” is the lack of appetite. However, people with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa do not, in fact, lose their appetite at all. Anorexia nervosa is most closely characterized by a person’s extreme reduction of food intake—starving themselves to become thin. Not only is this a serious health condition, but it’s a severe psychiatric disorder as well. Those who have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa have an irrational fear of gaining weight and an unhealthy obsession with having a thin body. People affected by this disorder commonly see themselves as “too fat,” though they may already be underweight.
I’ll start this off by telling you all that I have personal experience with this topic. A doctor has never diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa. I have never been at an extremely low weight, but I have lost an extreme amount of body weight within a small time. I have always been a bigger kind of kid. The doctors blame it on my list of many diseases, some of which drastically affect the way my body deals with sugars and carbs. I’m an active person, and though I’ve never eaten very healthy, I have never eaten that much. I was a dancer for 13 years, which meant I ate three times a day, just like everyone else, but at much different times. Sometimes I ate a small lunch when school allowed, then I’d come home and eat dinner at 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, dance until 9, and when I got home, I would have to eat again. It got to a point where I stopped eating lunch. And then I stopped eating dinner. And then, I just stopped.
And while I still struggle with my own demons today, and while I know that recovery is hard, I’m here to help those who need it.
“Recovery feels like shit. It didn't feel like I was doing something good; it felt like I was giving up. It feels like having to learn how to walk all over again.” ― Portia de Rossi
Signs and Symptoms
The most obvious signs of anorexia nervosa are the rapid loss of weight and extreme dieting. However, most people with an eating disorder have certain rituals they partake in, and anorexia nervosa is no stranger to those. Most of the sufferers obsess constantly with calories or the fat content in foods. Some obsess over low-carb or low-calorie recipes, cooking them, but not eating them. They may cut their food into tiny pieces, refuse to eat around others, or even hide their food to throw it away later. Some of the physical signs of anorexia nervosa, besides being dangerously thin or underweight, would be the growth of fine hair upon the face and the body, hair thinning and hair loss, fatigue, and the yellowing of skin color.
“Between 50% and 75% of individuals with an eating disorder experience depression.” However, those with an eating disorder do not just experience depression. Obsessive-compulsive disorders are often seen paired up with disorders such as anorexia nervosa, which is how many of the symptom rituals have started from. Some have even developed anxiety or borderline personality disorders, and a large number participate in things such as substance abuse and alcoholism. Many of the people who suffer from anorexia nervosa also suffer from other eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa.
“The only number that would ever be enough is 0. Zero pounds, zero life, size zero, double-zero, zero point. Zero in tennis is love. I finally get it.” ― Laurie Halse Anderson
Anorexia nervosa does not have a specific cause, just like any other eating disorder. But studies show that media does contribute largely to the pressure of perfection in bodies and even the glorification of unhealthy habits.
“Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women.” People see these perfect bodies on the television or the internet, the ones that have been altered in Photoshop to look good, and they tell themselves that this is the definition of beautiful. Media has changed the world’s view on what is ideal in a woman and man. It has changed what society claims as “good-looking.”
The media affects more young adults than it does adolescents, which may suggest that long-term exposure to the media during childhood may lay the foundation for these negative effects. Meaning that, because children are exposed to these negative images that promote body dissatisfaction throughout their life, when they get older, the negativity sticks with them.
Just because we have the power to control our media does not mean that we will stop promoting body dissatisfaction in young adults, nor the standard of what is pretty and what is not, or what is thin and what is not.
“I’ve never had anorexia, but I know it well. I see it on the street, in the gaunt and sunken face, the boney chest, the spindly arms of an emaciated woman. I’ve come to recognize the flat look of despair, the hopelessness that follows, inevitably, from years of starvation. I think: That could have been [me]. It wasn’t. It’s not.” ― Harriet Brown, Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia
Treatment and Medical Complications
There is no real treatment for anorexia nervosa because, being a psychological disorder, it is different for everyone. Some get better, some relapse. However, it is shown that early intervention and treatment are more effective. Doctors try to address three main areas when they treat patients of anorexia nervosa, those being:
- Restoring the patient to a healthy weight
- Treating any psychological disorders that may be related to their eating disorder
- Reducing or eliminating the thoughts and behaviors that originally led to the disorder
Unfortunately, not all patients of anorexia nervosa recover completely. Studies show that 20% of patients develop chronic anorexia nervosa, in which 6% will die from the related causes.
Like with any eating disorder, anorexia nervosa comes with medical complications that can be very serious. Some of the most common are: growth retardation, in which height gain can slow or even stop; pubertal delay or arrest, which is dependent on the release of the growth hormone just as height gain; heart diseases; neurological disorders, such as seizures; even death.
“Anorexics are the best liars in the world. You do anything to keep control. You place people into separate categories, those you trust, those you don’t, those you can confide in and those whom you lie to. But of course the reality is that underneath it all, you are lying to yourself all the time.” ― Peter Barham, The Invisible Girl: A Father's Moving Story Of The Daughter He Lost
Anorexia nervosa is a tough disorder to deal with, something I know personally. However, there are many ways that you can get help if you think you may show signs of having it, or you haven’t gotten help for your disorder yet. A few are:
If you aren’t sure about contacting help and you need to talk to someone, please feel free to talk to me. I have a ton of social media sites you can use, unlimited texting within the U.S., and Skype. Please drop me a note if you wish to speak with me. I wish you all the best.