Anorexia nervosa (or anorexia) is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder that affects a person’s emotional and physical health. It is a complex and devastating condition characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss, and can impact not just someone’s health, but also their productivity and relationships.
Someone suffering from anorexia will attempt to lose weight by either strictly restricting food intake through dieting or fasting, or through excessive exercise. They may also use laxatives, enemas, diet aids or herbal product to help purge food from their system.
Anorexia typically appears in early to mid-adolescence. The physical signs and symptoms are related to starvation, however, the disorder also includes emotional and behavior issues related to an unrealistic perception of body weight as well as an extreme fear of gaining weight:
Physical symptoms can include:
• Extreme weight loss
• Dizziness or fainting
• Bluish discoloration of the fingers
• Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
• Absence of menstruation
• Dry or yellowish skin
• Swelling of arms or legs
Emotional symptoms can include:
• Preoccupation with food
• Refusal to eat or denial of hunger
• Fear of gaining weight
• Lying about how much food has been eaten
• Social withdrawal
The self-starvation cycle of anorexia denies the body of the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. This causes the body to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, which can result in serious health consequences including:
• Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart failure
• Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones
• Muscle loss and weakness
• Severe dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure
• Fainting, fatigue and overall weakness
• Dry hair and skin, as well as hair loss
• Growth of a downy layer of hair (aka lanugo) all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm
Diagnosis And Treatment
Anorexia is similar to other eating disorders, like bulimia, in that there is no single, agreed-upon cause. Instead, a variety of factors can lead someone to suffer from this destructive disorder, which has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition. Anything can contribute to the cycle of self-starvation, from genetics and environment to childhood experiences and self-image.
At The Dell Center, we focus on the underlying issues of a client’s eating disorder. We work together in a way that is most comfortable for them, to figure out what specific life experiences have contributed to their symptoms.
We have found that it is common for people suffering from an eating disorder to also suffer from a mood disorder or addiction, which can complicate treatment. For example, depression can frequently co-occur with eating disorders, and alcohol and other substance-based addictions are 4 times more common. We believe it’s important to consider treatment for all conditions, and work with clients to create an interdisciplinary plan that meets their physical and psychological needs and can include medical services, psychiatric services, nutrition counseling and individual and group therapy.
In many ways, our approach to treating eating disorders is similar to our approach to treating addictions. The difference is that recovering addicts don’t need drugs to survive, while food is essential to survival. With this in mind, we work with our clients to reestablish a healthy relationship with food. Our overall approach is based on the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:
• Reject the Diet Mentalityby throwing out diet books and magazine articles that offer false hope of losing weight quickly, easily and permanently. • Honor Your Hunger by keeping your body fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates • Make Peace with Food by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat • Challenge the Food Police by ignoring the unreasonable eating rules that dieting has created. • Respect Your Fullness by listening to body signals that tell you when you are no longer hungry. • Discover the Satisfaction Factor and pleasure that can be found in eating. • Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food by finding alternative ways to comfort, nurture, distract and resolve your personal issues. • Respect Your Body by accepting your genetic blueprint. • Exercise: Feel the Difference by focusing on how it feels to move your body instead of the calorie-burning effect of exercise. • Honor Your Health by making food choices that honor your body and your taste buds while making you feel well.
By teaching our clients how to create a healthy relationship with food and exercise, we ultimately enable them to become the experts of their own bodies.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, we’re here and ready to help. Contact us today.