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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

04-11-13 | By

What is Anorexia? – How Much do we Know?

what is anorexia?

It is no secret that one of the keys to living a healthy and balanced life is having positive self-esteem. Self-esteem relates to how much we like ourselves and appreciate the qualities and quirks that make us unique.

One of the cornerstones of a healthy self-esteem is body image, or the way we think and view our bodies. Having a healthy body image helps us have a positive outlook on life which is centered on our inner and outer confidence. However, when negative thoughts and feelings about our bodies emerge, it affects the way we view our world and how others may look at us.

The seeds of negative body image are everywhere, and social media is a common conduit from which these feelings emerge and take root. We live in a world where television shows, movies, Facebook and Twitter feeds inundate with images of men and women with porcelain smooth skin, six-pack abs and perfect waistlines. While these images are doctored and manipulated to a significant degree to sell a brand or a philosophy, many who struggle with negative body image try to emulate what they see and will engage in extreme measures in order to achieve these ideals. More often than not, many develop potentially life-threatening eating disorders—and one of the most common is anorexia nervosa.

“We live in a world where television shows, movies, Facebook and Twitter feeds inundate with images of men and women with porcelain smooth skin, six-pack abs and perfect waistlines.”

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder which is characterized by abnormally low body weight as well as a crippling fear of gaining weight. Those who suffer from this disorder have severely distorted perceptions of body weight and image. Additionally, those with anorexia nervosa place a high value on controlling their weight and shape and will resort to using extreme measures that significantly interferes with their daily activities.

There are two distinct types of anorexia nervosa. The first type is called restrictive type anorexia and it involves an individual restricting their calories by undergoing extreme dieting, extended periods of fasting or exercising to excess. The second type of anorexia is called purging type anorexia in which weight loss is achieved through self-induced vomiting or through heavy use of laxatives and/or diuretics. While the terms anorexia nervosa and anorexia are used interchangeably, there are differences that need to be addressed.

Anorexia vs. Anorexia Nervosa…Is There A Difference?

Anorexia in of itself refers to a general loss of appetite or a loss in interest of food. Anorexia Nervosa is a serious mental disorder in which those who suffer don’t loss interest in food, but have intentionally restricted their food intake based on irrational fears of being overweight. Additionally, those with anorexia nervosa may be underweight but still have intense fears of putting on weight. According to statistics provided by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 85 to 90 percent of all patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are female.

Anorexia Nervosa Statistics

The statistics regarding anorexia nervosa are shocking and many don’t realize the prevalence of this devastating disorder. Morality rates from anorexia nervosa are the highest of any psychological disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) provides the following statistics:

  • Approximately 90-95% of all anorexia nervosa sufferers are women
  • Between 0.5 and 1% of ALL American women suffer from anorexia nervosa
  • Between 5-20% of all individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa die, and the probabilities of death increase with the length of time people have the condition.

While the focus of attention on anorexia nervosa is on the percentage of women who are afflicted by this disease, it is important to note that it also effects 10-15 percent of American men and especially young adult men.

What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?

The development of this disorder has biological, psychological and cultural roots. Several studies have suggested a possible genetic link and that individuals with siblings or other family members with a history of eating disorders may be at increased risk of developing anorexia nervosa. Those people that have a personality traits that reflect perfectionism, sensitivity and rigidity are all common with those suffering from the disorder.

Psychological characteristics that may leave some more susceptible to developing anorexia nervosa include those with low self-esteem as well as obsessive and compulsive behaviors. As mentioned earlier in the article, there are also cultural factors that come into play, especially mass media’s reinforcement of “being thin” as an ideal. These persistent images, along with peer pressure, may fuel the belief that engaging in unsafe eating behaviors to attain the perfect physique is acceptable.

What Are The Symptoms and Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa?

While the exact roots of how anorexia nervosa develops are unknown, the condition is a combination of biological, environmental and psychological factors. For those affected by this disorder, the misuse of food is a symptom of a deeper-seated psychological issue, whether it is depression, anxiety, or past traumatic events and experiences as examples. The following are common symptoms seen in individuals with anorexia nervosa:

  • Inadequate food intake which leads to a lower than normal weight
  • An intense fear of gaining weight, being weight obsessed and engaging in dangerous behaviors (i.e. excessive exercise, extreme calorie cutting and prolonged periods of fasting)
  • Unable to see the severity of their weight loss and its psychological and physical effects
  • Severe weight loss
  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Dry skin
  • Bad breath and tooth decay
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Flat emotion
  • Lying to friends and family on what they have eaten and when they have eaten

The Importance of Proper Treatment

Much like substance abuse, anorexia nervosa is a progressive disease which can have devastating impacts not only on those who suffer, but their families and loved ones as well. Since anorexia nervosa involves both and body and mind, it is important to find specialized treatment that involves a team approach. In addition to help from medical doctors, psychologist, counselors and dietitians, family support is also critical in the recovery of those suffering from this mental disorder.

The first and most crucial step in recovery is addressing the medical issues which can include heart problems, anemia, and bone loss and fractures and co-occurring disorders such as depression. Nutritional interventions are equally as critical, with dietitians creating individualized meal plans which allow patients who consume the amount of calories needed to maintain a normal and healthy weight. Thirdly, people struggling with anorexia nervosa need intensive therapy and counseling to uncover the root causes for their behavior. A number of therapies can be utilized so those underlying causes are addressed, and patients can receive the coping skills and support they need to continue working a plan of recovery.

Is Anorexia Nervosa Impacting Your Life?

If you are struggling with anorexia nervosa or a similar eating disorder, it is important honestly acknowledge the problem and talk to someone that understands your struggles. Whether it is a supportive family member, friend or medical professional that understands eating disorders, it is important to understand that you are not alone. It is also important to seek the professional help and support of trained eating disorder professionals. If you are in need of further information on the disease of anorexia nervosa, are looking for treatment, or need added encouragement, Sober Nation can provide you with the resources, information and support you need in order to realize your dream of a new and healthier you.

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