|Publisher||Eating Disorders Association of UK, 2011.|
Those with anorexia have an obsessive fear of gaining weight. They may diet or exercise too much so they can lose weight or stay “slim”.
They are determined to do this, despite the concern of others around them. Anorexia is an eating disorder. The other eating disorders that you will hear about are:
Bulimia: Where a person eats very large amounts of food because they are starving. Then they worry about gaining weight so they make themselves vomit, takes laxatives or exercise to extremes.
Binge eating disorder: Where a person eats an excessive amount of food within a short period of time (two hours) and feels a loss of control while eating.
Other eating disorders: Where a person has signs of either bulimia or anorexia but not enough signs to definitely state they have these conditions. This category is often called eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) by doctors, and usually occurs at an early age. It is very common and doctors treat is as seriously as the other categories of eating disorder.
We will focus on anorexia here. However, it’s worth noting that any form of eating disorder is a complex mental illness that can have serious physical, emotional and social impacts.
Anorexia nervosa usually begins during adolescence
It is generally seen at an earlier age than other eating disorders, such as bulimia and binge eating disorder (these are often developed during late adolescence or early adulthood).
Females represent approximately 90% and males 10% of all eating disorders.
However, like all eating disorders, anorexia can be developed at any age or stage of life for both males and females. A person with anorexia will often say they are fine and just want everyone to leave them alone. They may suggest that it is only the unwelcome concern of others that bothers them. In reality they do not enjoy anorexia and will usually be painfully aware of how miserable and isolated they are, and of how much the anorexia controls their life.
They endure a constant struggle with negative thoughts about the self, endless thoughts about food and disgust at their body.
Talk to your doctor if you suspect yourself, or a loved one has anorexia. It is a very serious condition that can lead to death from starvation, so it's important to seek help. Effective treatment is available.
An eating disorder has no single cause. A wide range of factors have been identified that can be considered possible “causes” of anorexia. These can be grouped into family, social and personal factors. People who exhibit a number of these are considered to be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder than others.
Family patterns, such as a family history of:
Social factors, such as:
Personal factors such as:
One of the clearest symptoms is anxiety around food. This could include the person:
Other early signs of anorexia include:
As weight drops various changes occur in the body:
If anorexia is suspected the doctor will run a number of tests and examinations to make sure there is no medical reason for the weight loss.
To be diagnosed with anorexia, a person must:
Eating disorders are complex. A person with an eating disorder will very often also suffer from depression, anxiety and a lack of self worth.
While your doctor may not be an expert in treating eating disorders, they will be able to assess any physical problems resulting from your eating disorder and can also help you to contact specialist eating disorder services.
However, for successful treatment, you must be at a stage where you accept that you want anorexia out of your life. Your doctor will recommend a mix of treatment options that best suit you.
These are non-medical treatments that address your emotional needs such as your thinking, behaviour, relationships and environment. This involves talking with a trained professional who uses clinically researched techniques, usually talking therapies, to assess and help you understand what has happened, and to help you make positive changes in your life.
Education can be extremely important to help you and your family. Your health professional will give you information about the disorder, suggest different ways to handle it, and discuss any complications that may occur.
There are also numerous self-help books available in book shops that some find to be a useful first stage in getting help. They can teach you about some of the ways of dealing with your eating disorder and they can also get you used to reading about or discussing problems that you have previously kept completely to yourself. They are generally written by medical experts but draw on the experience of people who have eating disorders.
There are no drug treatments that are of established benefit in the treatment of anorexia. There are a few that may help deal with some of the associated problems, and these are prescribed from time to time. These include antipsychotic and antidepressant medications.
If you are prescribed medication, you’re entitled to know the names of the medicines; what symptoms they are supposed to treat; how long it will be before they take effect; how long you will have to take them for and understand the side effects.
If you are pregnant or breast feeding no medication is entirely safe. Before making any decisions about taking medication at this time you should talk with your doctor.
Complementary therapies may be used in addition to psychosocial treatments and prescription medicines. Any health-related practice that increases your sense of wellbeing or wellness is likely to be of benefit.
In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress.
Complementary therapies can include using a number of herbal and other medicinal preparations to treat particular conditions. It is recommended that care is taken as prescription medicines, herbal and medicinal preparations can interact with each other.
Hospitalisation may be suggested where there is extreme weight loss and concerns about your physical health. There are only a few places in New Zealand that have a specialised hospital programme for anorexia. These units all aim to restore your weight to an acceptable level as well as to begin psychotherapy. Hospital stay tends to be between three and 12 months but this can vary a lot.