Select Page

December 4, 2021 Glynis Kennedy

WHAT IS ANOREXIA NERVOSA

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. It is a complicated mental illness that can even be life-threatening, but it is not impossible to get better. With the proper treatment, anything is possible.

Anorexics often have low body weight and a fear of gaining weight. It is also associated with emotional instability due to an unrealistic body image. The intensity of this disorder is different for everyone.

The fear of gaining weight causes sufferers to; count the calories they eat in a day, purposely vomit after a meal, over-exercise, and misuse laxatives, diet aids, or diuretics. They are willing to do anything just to lose weight.

A person suffering from an eating disorder intentionally restricts their food intake to solve their emotional problems and minimize the fear of gaining weight.

Anorexia usually occurs in teenage or young adulthood, but it is also possible to start having this disorder later in life.

When we talk about Anorexia, we usually talk about women, but it can affect anyone, regardless of gender.

There is proof that the effects of Anorexia are more life-threatening for men than for women. The reason for this is that men find out about their diagnosis much later than women. In a world where we live, we usually forget that this disorder can affect them too, not just women..

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANOREXIA & ANOREXIA NERVOSA

Anorexia is an extraordinarily unhealthy or even life-threatening way of dealing with emotional problems.

Anorexia nervosa is when a person becomes more preoccupied with their body image and weighs less than expected for their age, gender, and growth stage.

All eating disorders can take over your life, and it is challenging to overcome them. But with proper treatment, counseling, nutritional advice, and medical care, it is possible.

Sometimes a person suffering from Anorexia needs to be hospitalized because the symptoms are so severe.

TYPES OF ANOREXIA

Because of the complexity of disordered eating behaviors and the fact that people do not always engage in restrictive behaviors, the DSM-5 has defined several subtypes to understand anorexia behaviors better.

Anorexia Nervosa, Restricting Type

The restrictive type is the most commonly known subtype of Anorexia. Individuals diagnosed with the restrictive type should not have had episodes of overeating or overeating within three months before diagnosis, and their “weight loss is due to diet, fasting, and excessive exercise.”.

Anorexia Nervosa, Binge-Eating & Purge Type

Those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, excessive eating/purging type exhibit restrictive behaviors and excessive eating and compensatory purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. This subtype differs from the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa in that those who struggle with it do not engage in any restrictive behaviors.

Atypical Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is atypical, belongs to the category of “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder,” It describes presentations in which symptoms characteristic of feeding and eating disorders are present and cause clinically significant problems but do not meet the full criteria for a specific diagnosis. Anorexia Nervosa, which is Atypical, differs from Anorexia in that sufferers meet all the criteria for Anorexia except that “the person’s weight is within or outside the normal range despite significant weight loss.”

Anorexia Athletica

“Anorexia Athletica,” also known as “exercise anorexia” or “sports anorexia,” is not a formal diagnosis of DSM-5. However, it is a phenomenon that is increasingly being investigated, as many researchers of eating disorders and experts believe that its prevalence guarantees an official diagnosis. Until then, the term refers to individuals who engage in excessive or compulsive exercise and do not eat the calories required for a diet.

SYMPTOMS OF ANOREXIA NERVOSA

People with anorexia nervosa lose weight and maintain their dangerously low weight in a variety of ways. While some put strict limits on calorie intake, others exercise excessively. Some use a method of overeating and purging similar to that used by people with bulimia. Others use laxatives or diuretics to get rid of calories. If you struggle with anorexia nervosa, your symptoms may include the following:

You may also notice behaviors such as:

  • excessive exercise
  • Shifting food back and forth on the plate instead of eating and cutting food into small pieces
  • denial of hunger 
  • use of diuretics, laxatives, or diet pills
  • depressed mood
  • irritability
  • neglects social life

Warning signs of anorexia nervosa

Here are the more common signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

  • Preoccupation with weight, body shape, and appearance
  • Negative or distorted body image, thinking yourself fat when at a healthy weight or underweight
  • Increased anxiety during meals
  • Obsessive rituals around food
  • Constant or repeated dieting, restrictive or rigid eating habits
  • Changes in food preferences
  • Deceptive or secretive behavior related to eating,
  • Frequent avoidance of meals, excuses for not eating,
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Preoccupation with food or food-related activities
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-injurious behavior
  • Low self-esteem (e.g., guilt, self-criticism, worthlessness)
  • Repetitive or obsessive body control behaviors
  • Rigid thinking (black and white, OR, good and bad foods)
  • Excessive or compulsive exercising,
  • Feeling of being out of control, and
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Increased sensitivity to comments or criticism about appearance, body shape, weight, eating, or exercise habits.
  • Changed clothing style
  • Impaired school or work performance
  • Avoidance of social situations involving food or social withdrawal

WHAT CAUSE ANOREXIA NERVOSA

We do not know the exact cause of Anorexia. But some factors can cause it, and they are environmental, psychological, and biological.

ENVIRONMENT– Unfortunately, we live in a world where there is a lot of pressure due to unrealistic body images. We usually see these bodies in the media, which influences young people, increasing their desire to be thin.

PSYCHOLOGICAL- Some people who suffer from Anorexia may have obsessive-compulsive disorder ( OCD which makes it easier to follow an exercise plan and diet). They usually have an extreme drive towards perfectionism, which makes them believe they are not thin enough.

BIOLOGICAL- The identity of the specific gene variants that can cause Anorexia is not yet known. However, people born with perfectionism, rigidity, and emotional sensitivity have a higher risk of developing Anorexia. They often use these traits to encourage dangerous dieting, eating, and exercise behaviors.

PHYSICAL SIGNS AND EFFECTS OF ANOREXIA NERVOSA

Anorexia nervosa can affect the body and mind in many ways:

Brain– food & calories preoccupation, headaches, fainting, vertigo, fear of getting weight, anxiety, mood swing, depression

Hair and skin – dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair, thin white hair all over the body (called lanugo) bruises quickly occurs, cold intolerance, yellow complexion, cold intolerance 

Heart and blood– shallow blood pressure, poor circulation, heart failure, irregular or slow heartbeat, cardiac arrest, low iron level (anemia)

Intestines – abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating

Hormones – irregular or absent periods, infertility, loss of libido

Kidneys– dehydration, renal failure

Bones and muscles –weakness, tiredness, bone calcium loss (osteopenia), osteoporosis, muscle loss

Risk factors

Girls and women are more likely to struggle with Anorexia. However, Anorexia can also occur in boys and men. They have increasingly developed eating disorders, which may be related to increasing social pressure.

More commonly, Anorexia occurs in the teenage years. However, it is possible to develop this disorder regardless of age, although rare in people over 40. Because of the changes teenagers go through during puberty, they are more likely to create Anorexia. They are also more sensitive to comments about their appearance or body shape during these years and are exposed to peer pressure almost daily.

Certain factors can increase the risk of Anorexia, and those factors include:

  • Genetics. Specific gene changes can increase the risk of developing Anorexia in certain people. Those who have a first-degree relative – a parent, sibling, or child – who has the condition have bigger chances of developing Anorexia.
  • Dieting and starvation. Dieting increases your risk of getting an eating disorder. There is a lot of evidence that the symptoms of being undernourished are symptoms of Anorexia. Malnourishment affects the brain and affects mood swings, rigid thinking, decreased appetite, and anxiety. Starvation and weight loss can alter brain function in at-risk individuals, perpetuating restrictive eating behaviors and making returning to a regular eating routine more challenging.
  • Transitions. Whether it’s a new school, job, or home, the end of a relationship, an illness, or the death of someone close to you, change can cause emotional stress or increase the risk of developing Anorexia.

Diagnosis

You can increase the chances of a positive outcome by early diagnosis and timely treatment. 

The doctor will ask the person some questions to picture their eating routine, weight, and overall physical and mental health. Also, they may go through other tests to rule out other medical conditions that have similar symptoms and signs, such as malabsorption, cancer, and hormonal problems.

The National Eating Disorders Association states that doctors can more easily diagnose using the criteria listed below. However, they point out that not everyone who has a severe eating disorder meets these criteria.

  1. Limitation ​of energy intake and conspicuously low body weight for the age, sex, and general health of the person
  2. Despite the fact they are underweight, they have an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
  3. Changes in the way a person sees their body and weight, without realizing that their current low body weight is a problem.

When to see a doctor

Unfortunately, many people who suffer from Anorexia do not want treatment, at least not at first. Their desire and need to stay thin are more significant than their desire to be healthy. If you are worried about someone close to you, encourage them to talk to a doctor or someone else.

If you suspect even a little that you are suffering from an eating disorder because you think you have any symptoms listed above, you should seek help. If you suffer from Anorexia and have anxiety, find someone you trust and talk about your problems.

Treatment and recovery

To address the individual’s specific needs, a healthcare professional will make a comprehensive plan.

It should include a team of professionals who can help a person overcome the emotional, physical, psychological, and social challenges that person is struggling with.

Strategies include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help the person find new ways of behaving, thinking, and coping with stress.
  • Hospital treatment, in some cases
  • Family and individual counseling, as appropriate.
  • Medication to treat anxiety and depression
  • Nutritional therapy gives them information on how to use food correctly and develop and maintain their health.
  • Supplements to resolve dietary deficiencies

A person with Anorexia nervosa may find it challenging to participate in treatment. As a result, participation in therapy may vary. Relapses may occur, especially in the first two years of treatment.

Family and friends can be essential sources of support. If they understand the disease and recognize the signs and symptoms, they can support the sufferer during recovery and help prevent a relapse.

Hospital treatment

The person should stay in the hospital for some time if they have:

  • a severely low BMI
  • a psychiatric emergency
  • complications from inadequate nutritional intake
  • malnutrition
  • a persistent refusal to eat

Treatment will allow a progressively increased food intake to restore overall health. 

Natural treatment for Anorexia

Nutrition and Dietary Supplements

People who struggle with bulimia are more likely to suffer from mineral and vitamin deficiencies, further affecting their health. Vitamin deficiencies can trigger cognitive difficulties such as poor memory or judgment. One way to solve this condition is to get enough vitamins and minerals through supplements or in your diet.

You must inform your doctor about the supplements or herbs you are taking or intend to take, as some of them may interfere with conventional treatment.

These nutrition tips can help you with your health:

  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of liquid per day.
  • Avoid refined sugars, like soft drinks and candy.
  • Use high-quality protein sources such as meat and eggs, whey, and plant-based protein shakes as part of a balanced program to build muscle mass and prevent muscle loss.

Your doctor may suggest that you compensate for nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:

  • daily multivitamin contains antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B vitamins, and trace minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil, 1-2 capsules, or one tablespoon of oil 2 to 3 times per day to reduce inflammation and improve immunity. Cold-water fish such as salmon or halibut are good sources; have two servings of fish per week. If people have blood-clotting disorders or take blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin), taking fish oil may increase the possibility of bleeding.
  • AS AN ANTIOXIDANT, Coenzyme Q10, 100 to 200 mg before bed, to support muscles and immunity, Coenzyme Q10 may interfere with other blood-thinning medications and Coumadin (warfarin).
  • 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), use 50 mg, 2 to 3 times daily, to stabilize your mood. It is essential to talk to your doctor if you are taking prescription medications before taking 5-HTP. DO NOT take 5-HTP if you are taking antidepressants.
  • Creatine, use 5 to 7 grams daily for muscle atrophy and weakness. There is concern that creatine may be harmful to the kidneys and liver. People with kidney disease should avoid creatine supplementation. People taking creatine supplements should drink more water than usual.
  • Probiotic supplement  (including Lactobacillus acidophilus), 5 to 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) per day, to maintain immune and gastrointestinal health. For best results, store probiotics in the refrigerator.

Homeopathy

There is no medical literature supporting homeopathy in the treatment of Anorexia. But a homeopath who is experienced in his work can examine your case and recommend a treatment to address your specific symptoms and problems.

Herbs– One way to strengthen and invigorate your body system is to use herbs. You can use lots of different herbs, but consult your doctor before you start using herbal remedies. (Ashwagandha, milk thistle, fenugreek, catnip).

Physical Medicine– Many inpatient eating disorder treatment facilities support and offer acupuncture as one of their treatment protocols.

Family Therapy– In addition to individual therapy, the doctor may recommend family therapy that includes the parents or siblings. The goal is to help the parent or partner understand the seriousness of the situation and how they can contribute to the person dealing with an eating disorder.

Hypnosis– can help people feel more confident about themselves, leading to healthier eating and a better image of themselves.

Body Awareness– Studies recommend that people who struggle with eating disorders undergo body awareness therapy, yoga, exercise, and body massage, which can help reduce eating disorders. In addition, this type of therapy can improve the quality of life.

Biofeedback– Studies recommend the use of biofeedback therapies as they can help reduce stress in people with Anorexia.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy– One of the most effective therapies is cognitive-behavioral therapy. In this therapy, the person learns to replace unrealistic and negative thoughts with positive and realistic ones. S(he) also knows to acknowledge fears and find a new, healthier way to solve her problems.

Living with anorexia nervosa– Maria Rago, Ph.D., president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), has written tips for anyone who thinks they have an eating disorder, or perhaps for someone close to them.

  • Be respectful and kind instead of judgmental.
  • Make sure you get as much education and support as possible.
  • Find out about treatment providers and meet with some of the people to decide who can best help.
  • Consider a treatment team – including a nutritionist, a therapist, and a psychiatrist – all of whom should specialize in eating disorders.
  • Overview of the treatment plan and make changes as you see fit.

Ms. Rago pointed out that ANAD offers free support groups and mentoring programs for recovery, and she invites people to take advantage of these free services. “The right help can change your life and even save your life,” she said.

Can Anorexia Nervosa Be Prevented?

We do not know of any methods to prevent anorexia nervosa. But if you track the disorder’s symptoms, it can help you diagnose, recover, and treat it quickly. If you find that you or someone close to you is watching their weight too much and not feeling comfortable in their skin or exercising too much, you should seek professional help.  

Long-Term Anorexia Complications

The truth, unfortunately, is that untreated anorexia nervosa can be fatal, regardless of age, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and so on. In our culture, gender is less white and black than binary gender identification; most research is based on the construct of female and male.

Female

Today, 1 in 200 women struggle with anorexia nervosa, and if they don’t treat it, they can have long-term consequences.

  • Difficulties with conceiving, possible infertility, and loss of menstrual cycle.
  • Damage to vital organs can lead to life-threatening problems.
  • Bone and muscle loss.
  • Cardiovascular complications & increased risk of heart failure.
  • Enlarged symptoms of other mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and substance use.
  • Severe effects on career and relationship functioning.
  • Death. A study that was conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders found that 5-10% of sufferers die within ten years of onset. These statistics vary by gender.

Male– Research is showing that men are less likely to suffer from an eating disorder may not be entirely accurate because men are not as open about their problems and struggles as women. 15% of people who suffer from anorexia nervosa are male. In men, long term consequences may include:

  • Damage to vital organs can lead to life-threatening loss of function.
  • Increased symptoms of other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.
  • Cardiovascular complications & increased risk of heart failure.
  • Bone and muscle loss.
  • Severe effects on career and relationship functioning.
  • Death. Men diagnosed with an eating disorder have an increased risk of death because the diagnosis is made later. After all, people assume that men do not struggle with eating disorders.

Bottom line

A small percentage of people do not recover from Anorexia, but thankfully just many people do recover. In some people, the condition can be deadly, while others may develop other eating disorders. For some people, overcoming Anorexia takes lifelong maintenance and treatments. Support groups for Anorexia can help increase your possibility of recovery. Thankfully a lot of people recover from Anorexia, but a small number of people don’t. In some cases, this disorder can be deadly, and for some people, recovery takes lifelong treatment. It is perfect and helpful to join a recovery group.

And here are some ways to get help: