Are you worried that someone close to you might be struggling with anorexia nervosa, usually just called anorexia? If so, you probably want to make sure that have all the correct information before confronting them. This eating disorder is a serious and secretive problem, Which makes those struggling with it difficult to reach.
Anorexia is an illness. It is typified by a distorted perception of one’s body and weight, an intense fear of gaining weight regardless of the starting point, and a body weight that is abnormally low. People suffering from anorexia value an ever-shrinking body ideal, go to great lengths to control their weight and body size, and engage in extreme behaviors that tend to interfere with their lives significantly as they pursue their unrealistic ideal.
To keep losing weight or prevent weight gain in the first place, people with anorexia typically place intensive restrictions on themselves, limiting their food intake. They might also control their intake of calories by misusing diet pills, diuretics, enemas, or laxatives, or by vomiting right after eating. They may also exercise compulsively and to excess. Weight gain is always on their mind, regardless of how much weight is lost, because gaining weight is their worst fear.
However, remember this: anorexia isn’t really about food at all. Anorexia is about desperately trying to deal with emotional problems, in a very dangerous way. People with anorexia typically see their self-worth directly tied to thinness or the number on the scale. This causes them to create impossible, unattainable physical goals, which only re-enforces their feelings of worthlessness
Symptoms of Anorexia
The physical symptoms and signs of anorexia are very similar to the symptoms of malnutrition and starvation. However, these physical signs are closely tied to an underlying range of emotional and behavioral problems, too. It’s not always easy to pick up on the physical symptoms of anorexia because body types are naturally different based on genetics. Also, people struggling with anorexia usually try to hide the problem, including physical signs and symptoms of anorexia, and their own food eating habits. Its important to remember to look past just the physical and to be aware of the behavioral and emotional symptoms of anorexia as well.
Physical symptoms of anorexia
Physical symptoms of anorexia can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal blood counts
- Bluish discoloration of the fingers
- Calluses on the knuckles from vomiting
- Dizziness or fainting
- Dry or yellowish skin
- Extreme weight loss
- Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
- Inability to tolerate cold
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Low blood pressure
- Menstruation spotty or stopped
- Missing expected developmental weight gains
- Soft, downy hair covering the body
- Swelling of limbs
- Thin appearance
- Tooth decay from vomiting
Behavioral and emotional symptoms of anorexia
Behavioral and emotional symptoms of anorexia can include:
- Adopting rigid eating or meal rituals
- Bingeing and purging, which can mean vomiting, and/or abuse of diet aids, enemas, herbal products, and/or laxatives
- Complaining about being fat or about fat body parts
- Covering up body with lots of clothing
- Denial of hunger
- Eating a few “safe” diet foods only
- Exercising compulsively to excess
- Extreme fear of weight gain
- Flat affect (lack of emotion)
- Frequently checking the mirror for flaws
- Frequently refusing to eat or skipping meals
- Hiding food to avoid eating it
- Lying about eating
- Making excuses for not eating
- Preoccupation with food, which might includes cooking for others but not eating
- Reduced interest in sex
- Repeated measuring of the body or weighing
- Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting
- Social withdrawal
- Spitting out food after chewing
- Unwillingness to eat in public
Getting Help for Anorexia
At first, people with anorexia often don’t want treatment. Their wish to get or stay thin overcomes everything, including any fears about their health. This can make it tough to talk to someone about what seems like anorexia—but keep trying. Let them know how much you care, and that you’re not going anywhere.
If you are struggling with problems that feel like anorexia, or something that might be like it, it can help to take an assessment to see for yourself. Once you do that, please, reach out for help if you need it. Someone you trust can help you talk about what’s going on with you, and can help you get the assistance you need.
Like other eating disorders, anorexia can feel absolutely overwhelming. It can feel like it’s running your life, and like things will never get back to normal. But good treatment can truly turn this around for you and help you to remember who you really are. Don’t delay getting help.