Information About AnorexiaInformation About Anorexia Can Save the Life of a Loved One

Anorexia Nervosa is a life threatening mental health illness that affects millions of people each year.  According to the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person must meet the following criteria in order to be diagnosed:

  1. Caloric restriction resulting in significantly low body weight
  2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight, or persistent behaviors that prevent weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight
  3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight

Complications from anorexia are vast and severe.  Anorexia can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including one’s social life, family, and health. Medical complications include the following:  increased risk of heart failure and death, reduction of bone density, muscle loss and weakness, severe dehydration, low blood pressure, anemia, fatigue, intestinal disturbances such as constipation and bloating, stunted growth, edema, blotchy and dry skin, yellow or gray skin, brittle nails, dry and brittle hair, hair loss, fine patches of growth on the body called lanugo, and amenorrhea or loss of menstrual cycle.  People are typically unaware of all the medical complications that can result from Anorexia, and some complications, such as osteoporosis, are irreversible.  Moreover, it has been noted through the literature that twenty percent of people who have this illness will die from related complications.  Thus, it is vital that those who may be struggling with this disorder see a physician and have a medical work up as soon as possible.

What Causes Anorexia?

Recent research has shown that genetics may play a role.  Though there is not one gene identified, studies show that some people are more prone to developing anorexia based on their genetic history (e.g., having relatives who have also suffered from an eating disorder or other type of emotional issue such as depression or anxiety). It is also cited that serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to depression, may be involved.  People who are more sensitive, have low self-esteem, and who are perfectionists are also much more prone to having anorexia. Moreover, our society promotes idealized images of beauty that make people susceptible to thinking that being thin is a way to achieve success and happiness.  For others, restricting food intake may have become a coping skill to deal with stress.

People with anorexia often state that they never intended to have an eating disorder.  The disorder often develops from someone trying to lose weight or wanting to become “more healthy” and then things spiral out of control. Telling someone to “just eat” will not solve the issue.  If someone has anorexia, they need help and should get it right away.  Research shows that early intervention is key. The longer the eating disorder lasts and the more severe it gets, the harder it will be to overcome.  With the help of a team of skilled professionals, including a therapist, dietician, medical doctor, and psychiatrist, and a strong support network, people with anorexia can and do recover.

Symptoms of Anorexia

If you see someone struggling with the following symptoms, someone you know may be struggling with this serious disorder and in need of help:

  • Restriction of food intake
  • Refusing to eat certain foods or food groups
  • Denial or lying about eating
  • Denial or hostile when eating issues are addressed
  • Eating alone
  • Strange eating behaviors (picking food apart, taking small bites, eating unusually slow)
  • Excessive exercise or constant movement
  • Body obsessions
  • Body checking (looking at one’s reflection in a window or mirror, pinching areas of body to check for body fat)
  • Continually wearing baggy clothes
  • Body comparisons
  • Asking or making comments about being or feeling “fat,”
  • Calorie counting
  • Obsessively weighing oneself on a scale
  • Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
  • Personality changes

Help for anorexia can be found through hospitals, eating disorder treatment centers, and private clinicians.  Center for Discovery provides eating disorder treatment for adolescent girls and boys ages 11-17 and adult women over 18 in several areas around the country.  Please call 800-760-3934 to get connected to our intake team who can help you determine the level of care that you or someone you know may need.