Eating disorders involve serious disturbances in eating behavior. Fashion trends, ad campaigns, social attitudes, and athletics promote leaner body weight and a preoccupation with body shape and weight. Extreme attitudes surrounding weight and food, combined with psychological and medical complications, define the disabilities that meet the criteria for eating disorders.
Anorexia means lack of appetite. Ironically, individuals with anorexia nervosa are hungry and yet are preoccupied with dieting and limiting food intake to the point of starvation. There is an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though anorectics become dangerously thin. The process of eating becomes an obsession, with rituals centered on meal plans, calorie counts, compulsive exercise, and self-induced vomiting despite little food intake.
Usually described as the honor-roll student or state champion, the individual denies that anything is wrong and typically does not seek medical care until prompted into treatment by friends and family. Depression is common as anorectics withdraw from social affairs involving food and festivities.
Receiving an anorexia nervosa diagnosis can be the beginning of a very long and challenging process. Eating disorders don’t develop all at once and the anorexia nervosa recovery process takes careful planning, with the right aftercare steps in place and a good support system surrounding the individual in treatment.
An anorexia nervosa diagnosis means that a serious and sometimes dangerous mental health condition has come into play; however, people with the disorder can enjoy long-term recovery. It’s more than great residential or day treatment programs. What to do after recovery is just as important. For those interested in finding a comprehensive anorexia nervosa treatment center, it’s important to consider what kinds of different aftercare programs that have been put in place before making any final decisions.
What Are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa occurs primarily in young women who develop a paralyzing fear of becoming fat. In anorexia nervosa, fear of obesity causes excessive restriction of food, resulting in emaciation.
Anorexia nervosa, among the more severe mental health diseases affecting young women and men, is a potentially life-threatening psychiatric disorder that is characterized by restriction of caloric intake, extreme weight loss, and an inability to maintain a healthy weight and nutritional balance. Another common symptom of anorexia nervosa is body dysmorphia or a distorted body image. People who’ve received a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa generally make great efforts to restrict the number of calories or the types of food they eat. They may also engage in excessive or compulsive exercise, to the point of injuring themselves. This serious mental health disorder can affect people of all ages, genders, races and social backgrounds. However, it affects young women (from age 16 onwards, although there are examples of cases much earlier) disproportionately.
The typical anorectic is an adolescent female who has lost 15% of her body weight, fears obesity, stops menstruating, and otherwise looks healthy. Other notable signs include low blood pressure, decreased heart rate, and edema or swelling of tissues. Metabolic changes, including dehydration and depletion of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride), can result in abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, and death.
What Are the Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa?
While each person is different, some of the most common warning signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- Refusal to eat certain foods going on diets despite being underweight
- Avoiding public meals or finding excuses not to eat
- An obsession or compulsive behaviors about food, dieting, exercise, counting calories, etc.
- Cooking meals for others without eating
- Refusal to eat meals around others, hiding or hoarding food
- The inability to maintain a body weight that is appropriate for one’s age, height, and general build
- Changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle
- Muscle weakness and dizziness
- Consistently finding reasons to skip mealtime or social situations that involve food
Why an Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis Should Be Acted Upon Early
Early intervention for someone with an anorexia nervosa diagnosis could mean the difference between life and death. Even among eating disorders, anorexia nervosa can have the highest mortality rate out of any known mental health condition. If it is ignored or goes untreated, they can lead to a number of both physical and psychological health risks.
It’s vital for families trying to help their loved ones to reach out to medical and psychiatric professionals when they suspect anorexia nervosa or another serious eating disorder is developing. As families choose the right anorexia nervosa recovery center for their loved ones, it’s important to look for a program that offers medical and psychological care to help ensure the best possible outcome.
Anorexia Nervosa Aftercare: What Do Families Need to Know?
Before an individual discharges from an anorexia nervosa recovery center, they should have a complete aftercare plan set in place. Heading home and back into a regular routine without a solid aftercare plan could set the patient up for failure, with much greater odds for relapse. Most repetitive mental health disorders can be triggered by stress or other difficult situations. Because of the health risk and the high chance of stress-related relapse, a quality anorexia nervosa recovery center will make provisions to ensure aftercare is available.
Committing to working through an aftercare plan is the best way to slowly transition back into day-to-day life after being discharged from treatment. Patients have the option for continued eating disorder counseling through day treatment services, group counseling sessions, family-based therapy and more.
Amenorrhea always accompanies anorexia nervosa. The ovaries stop producing estrogen and gonadotropins are not secreted by the anterior pituitary. The absence of menstruation occurs early in the disease, so it is not considered a result of malnutrition. A possible hypothalamic disturbance is indicated in which releasing factors for the gonadotropins are not being secreted. In rare cases of males with anorexia nervosa, the levels of gonadotropic hormones and testosterone are also decreased.
The patient with anorexia nervosa rejects the suggestion to see a physician. If the person can be persuaded to be examined, the findings include low blood pressure, decreased heart rate, and anemia. Dehydration caused by the induced vomiting and excessive use of laxatives results in a depletion of potassium. This deficiency causes muscular weakness and heart abnormalities. A lowered resistance due to malnutrition makes the patient susceptible to infections.
Treatment is directed toward correcting the malnutrition and the abnormal psychological state. Hospitalization is usually required to assure close observation of eating and bathroom habits. The patient may resist eating the required diet, fearing that she will become fat. The therapist must assure the patient that the weight she gains will help to make her more attractive and improve her health. Cooperation between the patient and therapist is essential to recovery.
The psychological problems that underlie the disease must be uncovered and proper psychotherapy given. The condition of anorexia nervosa is extremely serious. The patient can actually starve herself to death, and her depressed state may make her suicidal. Even after an apparent recovery, close supervision is required as relapses of the disease are common and the mortality rate is quite high.