What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes extreme anxiety or fear of gaining weight in the person who suffers from this condition. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa struggle with distorted body image and relentlessly pursue a thin physique.

This obsession with thinness can lead to food restrictions and limiting food intake, engagement in excessive exercise, and other unhealthy behaviors to control their weight. Despite being underweight, people with anorexia nervosa may still view themselves as overweight or heavy.

Anorexia nervosa is a complex disorder with biological and environmental factors contributing to its development. It can affect both males and females, although it is more prevalent in females, predominantly those in adolescence and young adulthood.

Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa

Knowing the signs of anorexia nervosa can be imperative when trying to help a loved one struggling with this condition. Someone struggling with anorexia nervosa may exhibit the following signs:

  • Restricting food intake or types of foods consumed
  • Displaying excessive worry about body weight and size
  • Obsessing over dieting, calories, and food intake
  • Partaking in excessive and unhealthy exercise behaviors
  • Taking laxatives to lose weight
  • Making themselves vomit
  • Habitually evaluating their body weight and size
  • Denying the feeling of hunger
  • Avoiding mealtimes
  • Withdrawing from friends or social interaction
  • Presenting with signs of depression

Every person is unique and not everyone with anorexia will presents with all of these signs. Therefore, it is important to talk to with your loved one and encourage them to seek help if you think they may be struggling with anorexia.

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Negative Impacts Resulting From Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa can result in severe and dangerous physical consequences. Severe symptoms often require inpatient treatment to stabilize the individual or prevent their symptoms from worsening. Some of the more severe physical effects brought on by anorexia nervosa include the following:

  • Malnourishment
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Upset stomach
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Insomnia

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Excessive hair loss
  • Infertility
  • Organ damage
  • Death

In addition to the physical signs that stem from malnutrition and starvation, anorexia nervosa can lead to numerous health issues that can negatively impact multiple organ systems. These include heart problems, electrolyte imbalances, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, and hormonal disruptions.

Emotionally, individuals with anorexia nervosa often experience mental health issues, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt and shame
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Controlling behaviors

Anorexia Nervosa And Concurrent Drug Use

Along with the many physical and emotional side-effects, anorexia can also result in substance use disorders (SUDs).

According to an article in the Current Drug Research Review journal, “Comorbidity between eating disorders and substance abuse is high, with 27% of individuals with anorexia nervosa having a comorbid substance use disorder.”

The study found that eating disorders preceded SUDs in most cases, with psychostimulants like Cocaine and Amphetamines having the highest rate of concurrent use in those with anorexia nervosa. It further suggests that extreme caloric restriction can be a predictor of psychostimulant use, as people with anorexia may initially intend to achieve weight loss due to the drug’s appetite suppressing qualities. Unfortunately, this use often turns into a concurrent SUD.

Causes Of Anorexia

While no single cause is correlated with anorexia nervosa, it is believed to be induced by a combination of biological, environmental, and psychological influences.

Biologically, individual personality traits and genetic variables (when combined with other factors) can make a person more prone to developing the disorder. Obsessive, anxious, and controlling behaviors can signal an increased risk for anorexia nervosa. Likewise, people who err towards perfectionism (like those with obsessive compulsive disorder) and who follow a restricting self-regimen may also have a heightened risk.

Additionally, pressure from society to attain a particular body image, and the growing use of social media to define what that specific body image should be, is also believed to play a significant role.

Prevention Education

Education regarding prevention techniques is essential in addressing anorexia nervosa. These efforts should include raising awareness about prevalence of anorexia nervosa and its warning signs.

Educating On Signs And Symptoms

Educating individuals, families, teachers, and healthcare professionals about the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa can help facilitate early detection and intervention. Early detection of the disorder can help prevent it from progressing to more advanced and severe stages.

Reinforcing positive body image, endorsing diverse representations of beauty, and teaching self-acceptance are all conversations that can take place within a community to help prevent the development of anorexia nervosa.

School Programs

Implementing comprehensive health education programs that cover topics such as body image, eating disorders, and mental health can help combat the early stages of anorexia that often starts in adolescence.

Additionally, educating youth on the importance of balanced nutrition and how to cultivate a healthy relationship with food would help to maximize prevention efforts. Schools should also provide counseling services and access to healthcare professionals trained in eating disorder prevention and treatment.

Healthcare Responsibility

Collaborative efforts between healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, and dietitians is necessary to ensure accurate and up-to-date information is distributed. Distributing clear and correct information is one of the ways to combat misinformation surrounding body image and what it means to look and feel healthy.

Treatment For Anorexia Nervosa

Successful treatment for anorexia nervosa typically encompasses a combination of medical, nutritional, and psychological interventions, including psychotherapy and medication, to address and promote recovery. The primary goals of treatment are to restore a healthy weight and address any medical issues and underlying psychological issues driving the disorder.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is commonly used to help individuals change their thoughts and behaviors related to food and body image. Family counseling can also be beneficial, as frequently, the condition takes a toll on relationships.

Get Help Today

The extreme physical and mental side-effects of anorexia can be difficult to overcome alone, but help is available.

Online therapy can provide flexible and convenient counseling services to those struggling with body dysmorphia and self-criticizing thoughts in the early stages of anorexia nervosa.

People in later stages of anorexia who are suffering from the extreme physical effects of malnutrition and starvation may need the 24-hour medical and emotional support that inpatient treatment can provide. Contact a treatment provider today to see what rehab options are available to you.

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