What is Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is most often thought of as a condition which affects teenage girls however this is not the case. Anorexia is common in adult women and cases are rising in younger children, and also in teenage boys and adult men.

Although many people who have never had an eating disorder believe that anorexics don’t want to eat or that they have no appetite, this is not the case. Anorexia sufferers actually spend a lot of time obsessing about food but this is because they want desperately to avoid eating it due to fear of weight gain and what that means to them.

People with this condition have a pre-occupation with their weight and size and a real terror of gaining weight and eating in case they get ‘fat’ even when they are very underweight. Someone with anorexia does not ‘see’ themselves as others see them, instead seeing themselves as being ‘fat’ even when they are very small and emaciated…

…the reflection staring back at me is not what you see… my guilt running the need to destroy my duration… forcing me to seek guidance on an empty plate of stolen dreams and fractured rainbows…

The anorexic strives to lose weight often by starving and restricting food, obsessively counting calories and/or fat content in everything and often their portion sizes become smaller and smaller, until they exist sometimes on virtually nothing, sometimes a piece of fruit a day or in extreme cases nothing at all. Everything is carefully counted so that they do not go over what they have allowed themselves according to their ‘anorexic rules’.

Some people also purge with anorexia to get rid of food they have eaten. Purging is the term used to describe methods of ridding the body of food that has been consumed. The most common methods used are self induced vomiting or taking large amounts of laxatives and/or diuretics. All of these methods are dangerous as they can cause electrolyte imbalance and heart arrhythmia. Some people excessively exercise.

The use of diet pills is another method that some anorexics use as an attempt to control weight. This is dangerous since sufferers resort to ordering drugs from the internet and there is no way of knowing what is in pills ordered this way. Some of the different types of medications that anorexics use are anti-obesity medications such as Reductil, Accomplia or Xenical but although these are ‘safe’ when prescribed properly by a doctor, they are not when ordered from an internet site and they are for those with genuine obesity problems, not patients suffering from anorexia.

Other types of diet drugs can be even more dangerous, such as those containing Ephedrine and Caffeine and others that are related to the amphetamine class of drugs. These are addictive and can cause increased heart rate and raised blood pressure.

It is never a good idea to order anything over the internet or to take medication without the advice of a doctor.

The ‘benefits’ of anorexia

Those who are suffering with this illness have a low self-esteem and often a tremendous need to control their surroundings and emotions. The eating disorder, anorexia, is a reaction to a variety of external and internal conflicts, such as stress, anxiety, unhappiness and a way of dealing with the feelings of the rest of the person’s life is being out of control. Anorexia becomes a way to cope with these emotions, but it is a negative way.

The anorexia sufferer focuses on food in an attempt to cope with life. It is not an attempt to die in most cases but more a way of being in control of one aspect of life, being successful at something and maybe having focus and a goal even that take focus away from the rest of life that is too difficult and difficult to cope with.

Perhaps if you could imagine for one moment what it would be like if you felt that you had no control in your life at all and felt very bad about yourself and your life and suddenly along came this one thing, usually quite by accident, that gave you all the control in the world, would you grab it with both hands? That’s often what happens with anorexia. It often starts with a diet to lose a few pounds (or kilos) and escalates from there because finally the anorexia sufferer has found something to feel good about themselves for and something to control, ie their weight.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened like that for me but I do remember realising one day that I had found something that I did have control of, when there were so many things in my life that I had no control of whatsoever and that made it even more compelling. I could control whether of not I had anything to eat that day and I could control my weight.

So, anorexia often becomes a way of coping with life and demonstrating control of body weight and shape. However, ultimately the disorder itself becomes overwhelming, taking control, causing chemical changes in the body and affecting the brain. This causes distorted thinking and makes it almost impossible for the sufferer to make rational decisions.

As the illness progresses it becomes increasingly difficult for the sufferer to eat at all, or to make decisions about food or to listen to people around them who are able to see what is really happening and the anorexia becomes all consuming, and symptoms such as exhaustion from starvation become worse. Unless other people can get through to the sufferer and persuade them to seek help it is possible to die from the effects of anorexia.

I know how difficult it is to think rationally at this point having been at this critical point myself twice and having had two separate inpatient stays at eating disorder units because of this.

Why do some people get anorexia?

The cause of anorexia nervosa remains unknown. It is thought likely that biological and social factors play a part. Many sufferers are perfectionists and this seems to be a common trait amongst those with the illness. Stress, puberty and family problems are all listed as common triggers and more commonly now the stresses of middle age has seen a rise in women from this age group developing the illness.

New research indicates that for a percentage of sufferers, a genetic predisposition may play a role in a sensitivity to develop anorexia, with environmental factors being the trigger.