Understanding Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that affects many people, both men and women. It is an eating disorder that is triggered by self-esteem challenges and issues with body image. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa struggle with the daily stress of the disorder. It is a challenging disorder to treat, but can be overcome with commitment to treatment.
The disorder anorexia nervosa manifests through severe malnourishment. In more clinical terms, it involves the refusal to maintain appropriate energy (calorie) intake to support a healthy body weight.
A healthy body weight is considered based on the individual’s age, sex, and height. Those diagnosed with anorexia are not only typically severely underweight, but also suffer from an extreme fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image. Please note that a person does not need to be underweight to be suffering from anorexia nervosa.
The distortion in body perception inhibits the ability to recognize the low body weight. It also causes the individual to perceive their own body very differently than it actually is. Most people with anorexia nervosa perceive themselves to be a fat, unsightly person. Even though they believe the image they are seeing, the objective truth is not reflective of what they see in the mirror.
Physical Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
The most obvious physical sign of anorexia is weight loss, but there are numerous other physical symptoms that occur. These physical symptoms can be hazardous to the affected person’s health. They can create long term consequences if not properly addressed early by medical and mental health professionals.
The following are potential physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa:
- Amenorrhea. When a woman suffers from anorexia nervosa, they face the risk of amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is the cessation of menstruation. This means they stop getting their period and stop having menstrual cycles.
- Hair loss. Hair loss can occur as a consequence of a lack of vitamins and nutrients.
- Brittle nails. Brittle nails is also a side effect of a lack of vitamins and nutrients that come with a healthy diet.
- Dry skin. Dry skin occurs as a result of a lack of proper nutrition and fluid intake.
- Constipation. Constipation can be due to both muscle weakening from malnutrition and a lowered metabolism. Dehydration also contributes to the condition.
- Low body temperature. Anorexia can cause affected people to feel cold much of the time.
- Lanugo. A low body temperature can cause lanugo. Lanugo refers to fine, soft hairs that can grow on the body and limbs. These fine hairs grow to compensate for the low body temperature experienced by people who struggle with anorexia.
- Discolored hands and feet. Discolored hands and feet can occur due to poor circulation. Poor circulation can result from muscle weakening and organ failure.
- Osteopenia. Osteopenia refers to bone density loss, which occurs in reaction to malnutrition.
- Low blood pressure. Low blood pressure also is the result of poor circulation and the weakening of muscles. It can also result from low blood sugar. Low blood pressure can cause uncomfortable side effects, like:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Potential Warning Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa
It is important to know the potential warning signs of anorexia nervosa. The condition is best treated when caught early. Knowing the warning signs of anorexia nervosa can be instrumental when concerns arrive about yourself or a loved one.
The following are potential warning signs of anorexia nervosa:
- Significant weight loss
- Calorie counting
- Preoccupation with food. People suffering from anorexia nervosa spend a lot of time thinking about food.
- Being highly critical of one’s own body
- Refusal to eat
- Laxative use
- Isolating. Spending more time alone, in order to hide personal struggle with their condition.
- Substance use/abuse
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing (to hide their body)
- Excessive exercise
Common Behaviors of People with Anorexia Nervosa
There are common behaviors that a person with anorexia nervosa may exhibit. These behaviors also serve as warning signs of the condition. Behaviors that may indicate a struggle with anorexia nervosa include:
- Water loading. Drinking excessive amounts of water or other liquids to achieve a feeling of fullness and decrease hunger pains. Water loading is also used to achieve a “false” weight on the scale. This is used as a way to deceive doctors or dietitians into seeing a normal or improved body weight.
- Punching one’s own stomach. This is done as a way to fight hunger pains.
- Visiting “pro-ana” websites. “Pro-ana” or pro-anorexia websites are places for people who are actively in their eating disorder to find tips to fight hunger, lose more weight, read personal stories, and view pictures to inspire the drive towards thinness.
- Frequent checking of the scale.
- Refusal to eat in public.
- Ritualistic food behaviors. This may include only eating certain foods, cutting foods into small pieces, eating in cyclical nature and not mixing foods.