Eating disorders are more than the behaviors of eating too much or not enough; they include a variety of thoughts and emotions. The actual appearance of an eating disorder may present differently from one individual to another, so it is generally necessary to have a trained professional make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.
What Is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, often has fatal results. People who struggle with this disorder set restrictive limits on the quantity of food they eat until they eventually reach starvation levels. Even after an individual shows clear symptoms of malnourishment, they may still perceive themselves as overweight and often fight against treatment steps. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 million women experience an eating disorder at some point during their lives. Clearly, anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders are a significant problem across the country.
Recognizing the Risk Factors
The first step in treating and reducing the occurrence of the disorder is to identify the Causes of Anorexia Nervosa. Unfortunately, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact causes of the disorder. However, there are some factors that are present in many cases:
- A family history of the disorder
- A parent or sibling with an eating disorder
- A belief that life would be better if the person were thinner
- Habits of overachieving or perfectionism
Family members and doctors may struggle to understand why a loved one has anorexia. However, there are some factors that put an individual at higher risk for developing the disorder.
- Females are much more likely to experience the disorder than males.
- People with a high body mass index in childhood are at higher risk.
- Abnormal functioning of the brain may affect the chemicals and systems that control hunger.
- Pressure from peers to become thin increases the risk of having the disorder.
- A history of teasing and bullying because of weight or size is a factor.
- Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, unhappiness with the perception of self, and loneliness can all affect an individual's tendency to develop an eating disorder.
- General social problems and the presence of other disorders can increase the risk.
- Even normal dieting efforts can increase the risk of developing anorexia.
The specific causes of anorexia are hard to pinpoint because there are so many possible factors. Rather than looking for the reasons behind the disorder, however, focus on the possible risks of avoiding treatment and look forward to treatment options.
Understand the Health Risks and Dangers
There are many health risks associated with eating disorders. When anorexia, binge-eating, or bulimia are untreated, the individual may suffer a number of negative health effects. The initial symptoms of anorexia include
- Fatigue, dizziness, or fainting
- Bluish tinge to fingers
- Dehydration and dry, yellowish skin
- Irregular heart rhythms and abnormal blood counts
- Loss of hair, erosion on the teeth, and swollen limbs
- Constipation, lack of menstruation, stomach pain
- Intolerance of cold
Those who suffer from anorexia often neglect to get treatment. People with anorexia usually don't want treatment because of their focus on being thin. However, ignoring the disorder leads to many mental and physical effects:
- Increased risk of depression and anxiety
- Increased risk of self-harm behaviors including suicide
- Increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse
- Reduction in reproductive hormone levels, thyroid hormones, and growth hormones
- Increased chances of miscarriage in pregnant women
- Increased chance of delivering a baby with a low birth weight
- Slow, abnormal, and dangerous heart rhythms
- Low blood flow and blood pressure
- Loss of heart muscles
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Impaired bone growth
- Lack of calcium and other vitamins and minerals
- Neurological problems, including permanent nerve damage affecting the brain
- Gastrointestinal and blood problems
- Multi-organ failure
If you believe your loved one may have anorexia, it best to take quick action. You can change your conversations about healthy bodies. Discuss the possibility of anorexia with your loved one and encourage her to see a medical or psychiatric professional. Help your loved one identify those people who will be supportive of her efforts to become healthy. Set a good example yourself, eating and exercising in positive, healthy ways. With support from family and friends, it is possible for an individual to overcome the disorder.
Treatment and the Path to Recovery
Seeking Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa is the next step in recovering from the eating disorder. Early detection of the condition can prevent a lot of detrimental health effects. Some of the early warning signs that should motivate loved ones to take action include a lot of quickly dropped weight, the avoidance of meals, constant comments about being fat or overweight, and excessive exercising. Treatment plans often consist of both talking therapy and supervision to ensure weight gain.
Talking to a therapist is a necessary component of treatment because professionals help the individual identify and cope with feelings. Professionals understand the very real effects of starvation and offer education about those consequences. The therapist will also help the individual make healthy food choices, helping the individual manage difficult situations. Throughout therapy, the therapist teaches coping techniques and helps the individual track progress and become stronger at using coping techniques.
Early Treatment Is Important
It is very important that anorexia nervosa is recognized and treated early. The related health effects of the disorder are often long-lasting and may continue to harm the individual even after treatment. If you or someone you love presents symptoms of eating disorders, act quickly to discuss the possibility with your loved one.