Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a disease in which individuals severely restrict their energy intake. This leads to significant low body weight in context to the person’s age, development trajectory, sex and physical health. Those diagnosed typically have an intense fear of gaining weight. They may also have a disturbance in the way their body is shaped along with denial of the seriousness of the diagnosis or medical consequences. Men or women suffering from anorexia may find that it is difficult to maintain the appropriate weight for their age and height. Anorexia affects men and women of all ages and some individuals may not simply restrict their intake; they may purge, use laxatives, manipulate prescribed medicines, or exercise excessively as their primary mode of restriction and compensation.
According to NEDA, anorexia can affect people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, races, and ethnicities. There is evidence the people have suffered from anorexia for thousands of years all over the world. Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic disease after asthma and diabetes. Often the disorder occurs in adults and adolescents but diagnosis is increasing in elderly populations. It is important to remember that extremely low body fat percentages aren’t the only indicator for diagnosis. Some clients may even appear be of average size or even overweight.
Those suffering from the most common forms of anorexia tend to be severely underweight or malnourished, which can lead to many health complications. Not only are they suffering on the outside, but there is also usually severe internal damage occurring as well. Some of the hidden internal damage attributable to anorexia nervosa can be brain shrinkage due to malnourishment and over time, the body effectively begins to “eat itself” due to the extreme and often extended states of starvation.Generally, the health risks of anorexia become more severe as the disorder progresses. Other possible consequences include:
- Development of heart conditions
- Impairment of blood sugar management including the possibility of Diabetes
- Loss of bone mass
- Kidney and liver damage
There are many red flags to help identify those who may be suffering from anorexia nervosa. Below are some indications:
- Obsession with fat and calorie contents
- Feeling cold most of the time due to lack of fat on organs
- Continual dieting even though the person is underweight
- Amenorrhea which is an absence 3 consecutive menstrual cycles
- Hair loss or thinning
- Brittle nails
- Becoming isolated or withdrawn from social situations especially around food
- Ritualistic eating patterns
- Excessive exercise
- Obsession with body weight and looks
- Avoidance of eating
Anorexia is a deadly disease. It has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions and can destroy not only a person’s body but it also affects their mind, body and spirit. Even though the disorder can be deadly there is hope! Awareness of eating disorders and a body positive movement is growing nationwide.
Those suffering have a variety of treatment options based on the severity of their symptoms and current functioning: inpatient hospitalization, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and outpatient treatment, and many insurance carriers will cover therapy and treatment for eating disorders. Due to the complexity of the disorder, it is critical individuals suffering from anorexia be treated by qualified, experienced counselors and treatment teams specializing in eating disorders.
Rachel Peru is a clinical intern in the process of completing her Masters in Professional Counseling at Grand Canyon University.
If you or someone you know needs help, talk with your health care provider or give us a call! We have a caring staff of seasoned therapists in our Glendale, Arizona offices who have experience in helping people heal from the past, find meaning and joy in the present, and embrace hope for the future. (623) 810-1663