Eating disorders can manifest themselves in many different ways. In order to understand, recognize and treat them effectively, it’s important to be aware of the different disorders that exist. To start this series, we will begin by discussing one of the most common and complex eating disorders: anorexia nervosa.
As defined by the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia nervosa (commonly known as anorexia), is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss, lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children, difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature, and in many individuals, distorted body image. People with anorexia use methods such as intense calorie restriction, excessive exercise, purging and bingeing to attempt to lose weight or maintain a low weight.
Anorexia doesn’t discriminate and can impact anyone despite their race, age, gender, or body type. It’s a common misconception that anorexia only affects women and/or those who appear underweight, and it is important to understand that men and women, children and adults, and even those who are in the normal or overweight category can suffer from this mental illness. These misconceptions lead to a lot of ignored warning signs and undiagnosed cases.
One of the reasons why anorexia is so complex is because there are many possible causes that are typically intertwined with other psychiatric problems. Genetics also have an influence – a family history of anorexia can increase an individual’s risk for having it as well. Other potential causes include having a history of trauma, a perfectionist personality type, concurrent OCD, or participating in a competitive sport that has a focus on weight (think wrestling or gymnastics). It has also been found that society’s portrayal of unrealistic body standards in the media can also play a role in developing an eating disorder. Understanding the root cause of an individual’s eating disorder can help determine what an effective treatment would be.
One of the first steps to treating anorexia is discovering and treating the root cause, but what are the warning signs that would suggest the presence of this disease in the first place? There are multiple, and they can be behavioral or physical signs. Common signs are listed below, but keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list and every individual case will be different:
· Dramatic weight loss
· Dressing in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm
· Is preoccupied with weight, food, calories, fat grams and dieting
· Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food
· Makes frequent comments about weight
· Denies feeling hungry or avoids eating meals with others
· Develops food rituals such as eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate, etc.
· Maintains an excessive, rigid exercise regimen
· Withdraws from usual friends and activities and becomes more isolated, withdrawn and secretive
· Loss of menstruation in females
· Dizziness, fainting
· Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities and tooth sensitivity
· Dry and brittle nails or hair
· Muscle weakness
So, what is being done to combat this disease? Unfortunately, research on eating disorders is currently underfunded even though their mortality rate can be quite high. In fact, those with anorexia have a 12 times higher mortality rate and are 57 times more likely to die from suicide than those without it. However, what we do know is that the earlier the diagnosis, the more effective the treatment and the higher the chances of a positive outcome.
If you or someone you know is displaying signs of having an eating disorder, you can go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org and chat with their Helpline.
If you would like to inquire about virtual nutrition counseling for eating disorders, please check out our First Bite Nutrition page.