What is anorexia nervosa?
Often anorexia nervosa is called the ‘slimmer’s disease’. This does not take into account the negative emotions and drivers behind the disorder.
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder where the main characteristic is the restriction of food and the refusal to maintain a minimal normal body weight. If you suffer from anorexia nervosa, what you eat, if and when you eat it is felt like the only thing you have under control. Any actual gain or even perceived gain of weight is met with intense fear by the Anorexic as putting on weight means losing control.
The very act of eating can represent everything bad which includes any feelings that aren’t allowed to come to the surface. This is a true and deep feeling of fear. To keep that fear away the anorexic will not be eating and lose weight and it becomes a way of feeling safe. This behaviour will be maintained even though the sufferer may actually be extremely hungry. Many suffer from the battle of not putting on weight and not wanting to starve to death.
Anorexics experience body image distortions, (Body dysmorphic disorder). Those areas of the body usually representing maturity or sexuality including the buttocks, hips, thighs and breast are visualised by anorexics as being fat. For some female anorexics, weight loss is so severe there is a loss of menstruation. In the obsessive pursuit of thinness, anorexics participate in restrictive dieting, compulsive exercise, and laxative and diuretic abuse.
If anorexia nervosa is left untreated, it can be fatal it is a life threatening eating disorder. It will negatively affect every aspect of your life.
The typical symptoms of anorexia nervosa
If you have anorexia nervosa you will usually do the following:
- Deny that you feel hungry
- See hunger as a friend
- Get a ‘kick’ from missing a meal
- Be obsessed with losing weight
- Count calories meticulously – know the calories of all foods
- Hide food or secretly throw it away – so family and friends think you have
- eaten it
- Lie about your problem to others
- Completely avoid high-calorie foods – like fats, sweets, chocolate
- Make yourself sick – more common in bulimia
- Exercise excessively – try to burn off more calories than you have eaten
- Use drugs that reduce your appetite
- Use drugs that speed up your metabolism – amphetamines
- Use drugs that speed up your bowel movements – laxatives
- Wear baggy clothes to cover up your body or to keep warm as you are always cold
- Believe that you look fat when other people think you are underweight
Anorexia nervosa can result in you:
- Weighing much less than you should for your age and height
- Being physically underdeveloped – especially if the disorder begins before puberty
- Missing many menstrual periods or having them stop altogether – may cause infertility problems later in life
- Losing interest in sex and having sexual dysfunction
- Changes in your personality
- Getting a ‘high’ from missing a meal
- Getting a ‘high’ from exercising too much
- Constantly tired and weak
- Usually feeling cold
- Poor concentration and lack of interest generally
What should I do?
If you feel you are developing an eating problem then getting help early on is very important.
You may wish to see your GP. They can check that symptoms, (weight loss or gain), are not due to an underlying physical condition.
If there is no such underlying conditions causing the problem the eating problem needs to be treated ASAP before it gets a strong hold on you. Treatment is usually through changing both your eating pattern and addressing the emotions behind it.