When being thin becomes an obsession, an extreme dieter may lose so much weight that his or her health is at risk. Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa connect their self worth with how thin they are. Many anorectics eat little or no food, and exercise compulsively, in an attempt to reach an unhealthy weight. Anorectics often convince themselves that their behavior is normal, and possibly even beneficial. Since anorexia and other eating disorders affect the mind and body, sufferers must undergo treatment for both physical and mental symptoms. Many anorectics refuse treatment until symptoms become debilitating.
Anorexia nervosa, like bulimia, is an eating disorder that makes people lose weight rapidly due to extreme diets and exercise regimens. Anorectics may weigh an amount that is not healthy for their height and age, or they may be attempting to reach an unhealthy body weight.
Typical victims of anorexia are young women, many of whom are competitive and successful in other areas of their lives. Those who suffer from anorexia often appear extremely thin, although some may have average or heavy body types. Anorectics rarely eat, and when they do it is often in private. Many spend a significant amount of time exercising. They often express dissatisfaction with their bodies. Diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics may be used by the sufferer to speed up his or her weight loss.
In addition to appearing to be at an unhealthy body weight, anorectics may exhibit other physical symptoms. These include discolored skin, excess hair on the skin, hair loss, discontinued menstruation, irritability, and depression. Serious cases of anorexia can slow circulation, affecting the victim’s heart rate and blood pressure.
In some cases, the cause of anorexia is never known. More commonly, victims may be genetically pre-disposed to the condition. It may also be triggered by depression, stress, and biological and environmental changes. Anorexia sometimes emerges in conjunction with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Anorexia can severely damage the sufferer’s health. Anorectics often have weakened immune systems and are prone to catching various illnesses. Hormonal changes caused by anorexia can lead to infertility, complications in pregnancy, and bone weakness. Severe cases of anorexia can cause heart failure and death. Anorectics are often prone to severe anxiety and depression. The disease itself and the recovery process strains all aspects of the sufferer’s life, including his or her physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.
Many victims deny being ill, and some even take pride in anorexia, referring to themselves as “pro ana.” An entire online and social media based movement is devoted to pro ana and pro mia (bulimia) eating disorder proponents, most of whom are also victims. These sufferers refer to their diseases in the context of friends named Ana and Mia. Some even consider Ana and Mia to be religious symbols. Once a person who suffers from anorexia begins to frequent these websites, blogs, and message boards, they may become more resistant to treatment. Eating disorders become lifestyles rather than diseases, and treatment is perceived as unnatural. Overcoming the eating disorder become equivalent to losing a close friend, or being excluded from a tight-knit community.
Many anorectics do not receive treatment until serious issues such as heart arrhythmia or dehydration cause them to be hospitalized. Emergency medical staff will monitor the sufferer’s vital signs, and extra nutrition through feeding tubes may be provided. Ongoing psychotherapy is usually ordered, to try to prevent the condition from returning.
If possible, anorexia should be treated by medical specialists and psychologists before it makes the victim extremely ill, but this can be difficult if the victim refuses treatment. Victims who are minors or who are otherwise under the care of a guardian may be admitted for involuntary treatment. Follow-up care may include inpatient or outpatient psychological treatment and nutritional counseling.
By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor