Explaining anorexia nervosa

A mental illness that is known to many people is anorexia nervosa. A common fact and how people perceive this eating disorder is as ‘someone being very thin and who is not eating’. Now, this is mostly true but there are many forms of anorexia nervosa. In this article we will talk about:

  1. What is anorexia nervosa?

  2. Causes

  3. Symptoms

  4. I think I have anorexia, what should I do?

  5. I think someone around me has anorexia, how do I help?

  6. Treatment

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness where a person has an abnormal eating pattern, is losing weight rapidly & takes disturbing actions surrounding food. There are two types of anorexia nervosa, namely:

  • Restricting type: the person restricts their food intake & takes a lot of notice in the calories and fat content of the food they eat.
  • Binge eating / purging type: the person also restricts severely on food but that is accompanied with binge eating and because of feelings of guilt, followed by purging.

Overall, the person has a horrible self-esteem and continuously thinks he/she is too thick & needs to lose weight. They often starve themselves and suffer a lot of pain when they are. Anorexia nervosa is a possible life-threatening eating disorder and should be taken very seriously, no matter in what state of the disorder a person is.

Causes

Although anorexia nervosa is still quite mysterious to researchers, they have found factors that have an influence on developing this ED, to wit:

  • Genetics. Although this hasn’t been researched thorough, it has been made clear that genetics do have a connection with developing anorexia nervosa.
  • Irregular hormone functions.
  • Low self-esteem, potentially encouraged by the media who have created the ‘perfect stereotype’ and affect body-images of especially teens & young women/men.
  • Low levels of serotonin (brain chemicals involved in depression as well).
  • Pressure from family/friends to look ‘good’.
  • Experiences of severe traumas, such as sexual abuse/traumas in childhood.
  • Careers that force potential candidates to lose weight and ‘be thin’.

Symptoms

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa are very extended and a person suffering from anorexia nervosa often does not show all the symptoms. If you are showing several of the symptoms listed below, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa: 

  • Abnormal eating / restrictive eating
  • Rapidly losing weight/being significantly underweight. (although an ED can come in all shapes & sizes)
  • Fainting
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Excessive exercising
  • Hiding food/cutting food in small pieces/eating alone
  • Purging (disappearing after a meal, going to the bathroom a lot)
  • Depression/lethargic/fatigue
  • Loss/thinning of hair/lanugo: soft her that grows on face & body
  • Menstruation absence
  • Feeling cold (extremely cold, sometimes)
  • Isolated & withdrawn
  • Obsessive knowledge of calories & fat contents

I think I have anorexia nervosa, what should I do?

If you’ve read the symptoms and you think you have this eating disorder, talk to someone. As soon as possible. This can be your doctor, a nutritionist, a family member/friend or someone you trust at your job/school, anyone who you feel comfortable talking to. It might be terrifying to open like that at first and it is very, very brave to get to the point of opening up about your ED, so take your time to process it. But do talk about it, because getting help is so important for a very dangerous eating disorder like anorexia nervosa. Asking for help is a brave thing to do and it means you have a lot of strength. It is not a weakness. If you do not feel comfortable enough to talk about it to someone yet, a few hotlines are there for you (some 24/7) to help you. Do not be afraid to call.

National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

(Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Their website also offers a chat. If you are in crisis, you can also text NEDA to 741741 and a professional volunteer will help you. This hotline is also for if you think a loved one has an eating disorder)

Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

(24/7, if you are contemplating hurting yourself or want to talk about your situation/eating disorder)

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330

(Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., if you’re having a hard time with your ED or a loved one is having a hard time, don’t be afraid to call)

These are three hotlines but there are a lot more out there. These are English hotlines, but there are definitely hotlines for other countries as well.

I think someone around me has anorexia nervosa, how do I help?

If you’re suspecting a loved one has an eating disorder, talk to them about it. But don’t just call them up while they are in public and ask them ‘so, you have an eating disorder?’. But I think that’s pretty clear. Try to talk to them when it’s the right time, when you two are not busy and you are in a calm environment. Be patient as you talk to them. Instead of saying: ‘you should eat more’, talk in the I-form. ‘I feel sad when I see that you are not eating’, for example. If you don’t, you are accusing them instead of letting them know how you feel. Let them know that you are there to help and don’t get mad/impatient. The person possibly will get defensive because, remember, it can feel as if they are being ‘accused’ of having an eating disorder that they maybe are not even ready to admit it yet themselves. They are in pain and it is hard talking about what they are feeling. You can’t force them to go into treatment when they are 16+, so let them know that you will support them and you love them and that if he/she is ready to talk or go into treatment, you will help them. Stay calm and hopefully the person is ready to get help.

Treatment

There are three types of treatment involved in the recovery journey of someone with anorexia nervosa. These three are, in the most cases, all necessary to fully recover.

Medical: first it is checked if the patient is in danger. If so, the patient will be hospitalized until they are not in danger anymore. Only then can they start treatment.

Nutritional value: the patient will learn to restore their healthy eating patterns, weight and their way of living healthily.

Therapy: the understanding of their eating disorder and why it has involved in one is part of therapy. The patient and therapist will search for the reasons that caused the ED and they will learn how to handle them. The patient will learn how to live happy & healthy and how to live with anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness that should be taken very seriously, as it can be life threatening but it also ruins the happiness of many people. If you are struggling, know that there are people who love you, people who want to help you and that you are not alone.

We, as society, have to change the stigma around mental illnesses and we can do that by talking about it. Teaching people about mental illnesses and opening up to others can be difficult but it is necessary if we want to make a change.

I hope to have informed you enough and if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask/contact me. Have a good day and don’t forget to eat in the morning, afternoon and in the evening. Love,

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