Anorexia Nervosa, also referred to as AN, is a severe medical issue that has the potential to devastate every facet of an individual’s life.

Anorexia’s effects are not only felt by the one who suffers from the condition but also by friends, family members, and society as a whole. Though it tends to inflict itself mostly upon females, males have been known to struggle with the problem too. And, while it typically rears its ugly head during the young adult or teen years, it can affect anyone at any age.

Defining Anorexia Nervosa

The condition of the disease, anorexia nervosa, is a kind of specific eating disorder that’s is included within the official manual for mental disorders. There are certain criteria that individual cases must meet in order to qualify as being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Those specifications entail that the person:

  • Restricts the consumption of food.
  • Experiences a noticeable reduction in their body weight. This can also be present when a younger person is not gaining the weight that they should be during their growth spurts. Engaging in such things as vomiting, excessive exercise, the use of laxatives, and other means for dropping weight may also be a part of the equation.
  • Exaggerated worry of gaining weight is at the root. The individual may obsess on the dislike of the physical appearance of being overweight and/or the health risks associated with being overweight.
  • Thinks he or she is overweight when they are far from it. Even a mirror or photograph lies to them. When they do picture themselves thin, they tend to think they look good that way.

There are also other types of anorexia such as the kind that restricts food or certain foods or the binge and purging variation of the disease. The binge and purge form is when a person eats without limitations or control and then vomits or uses a diuretic or laxative. There is also a condition called bulimia nervosa but it does not entail the presence of low bodily weight.

When a person has all of the criteria met except for the weight loss factor, usually another form of eating disorder is present instead.

Those who are anorexia nervosa diagnosed often also meet the criteria for one of more condition diagnosis. It is common for one with anorexia to also have an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or depressive disorder as well. Individuals who are diagnosed with the type that restricts their diet often have obsessive compulsive disorders.

Medical Complications of Anorexia

The condition of Anorexia nervosa is dangerous and has many physical implications which can threaten the lives of those who suffer from it. Therefore, seeking a viable treatment is imperative. Decrease of mineral bone density, issues with blood pressure, difficulties with proper organ functions, and a host of other problems are possible.

Females who practice diet restriction to lower caloric intake may cease to have their periods or they may be delayed when the individual is in pre-puberty. The process of frequent vomiting can spur on excess acids in the stomach and enlarged salivary glands. Having natural bowel movements can become difficult when laxatives are used a lot.

Anorexia Nervosa Risk Factors

One frequently asked question about anorexia is why an individual develops it in the first place. The answer is complicate and can vary from person to person. There are some things, however, which puts individuals into a higher risk category for getting it.

Below is a list of factors which tend to put on individual at a higher risk than others.

1. Cultural and Environment Factors

The ever-present influence on the image of one’s body as a measuring stick for self-worth is very evident in our society. The internet and social media only accentuate that problem. There are even places one can go online to learn tips on how to succeed in behaviors involving anorexia.

High income countries report the most cases of anorexia and other eating disorders. Although it’s not for sure why this is, the guess is that those are the countries where being thin is promoted and the focus is on physical attractiveness which entails being thin. Modeling, dance, gymnastics, and other sports and activities are popular within such cultures too and those place significance on the positivity of being thin and prejudice on being overweight.

Another thing that comes into the picture in today’s society is bullying. Kids can be very cruel to those who do not fit into the mold of what the perfect body is supposed to look like according to what society deems is said to be.

When someone doesn’t fall into their pattern, they make fun of them which can add fuel to the flame for those who already suffer from poor self-esteem concerning their physical appearance. The result can be devastating. Those with anorexia and other eating disorders are hard enough on themselves without adding in peer pressure and cruelty.

2. Stressors and Trauma

There is, for sure, a direct connection between and eating and events that have been traumatic. Researchers have found evidence that sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and other abusive situations have led to eating problems and disorders. In fact, even events that might not fall into a specific traditional trauma abuse category are enough of a stressor on individuals that they turn to focus on their outward appearance, like being thin.

A break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the loss of a friend or loved one, a move, a change in schools, or any other life event that is significant in nature can be what leads a person to dabble in weight loss thoughts or actions which eventually spin them towards full-blown anorexic practices. What is high stress for one individual can be quite different from what pushes another to anorexia.

3. Psychological Factors

There are specific traits, temperamental and/or emotional in nature, which tend to be associated with the eating disorders that are common to anorexia. One example is the characteristic of perfectionism and stringent rules placed upon expectations of oneself, especially when it comes to the restricting food kind of anorexia. Compulsive and obsessive tendencies also often connect with anorexia nervosa. Being extremely insecure or fearful and having low self-esteem are traits which may pave the way to eating disorders as well.

Planning meals obsessively is one action that is marked by someone who has OCD tendencies. Perfectionistic individuals might continually weigh themselves, striving for a perfect goal in their weight. It is common for those with the problem to have difficulty with expressing their thoughts and emotions and their focus become food-oriented instead of releasing those emotions and thoughts constructively.

4. Genetic and Biological Factors 

If a member within the immediate family has ever been formally anorexia diagnosed, the risk has a tendency to be greater for them to have it. The reasons for this is unknown but it still rings true.

One possibility is that genes play a role, providing the predisposition for the development of the condition when the situation encounters a trigger from another source such as one of the associated risk factors. Still, it isn’t clear exactly what role genetics play and further research is required to determine that.

5. Family Factors

Family dynamics can be a factor in anorexia. When one is not allowed to express their emotions constructively or undue pressure is placed on appearance or perfection, a person is more likely to have anorexia.

The same is true within families who have extreme chaos, rigid rules, unset boundaries, and so forth. Family is usually not the only cause for it, however. It is generally a combination of risks but family can definitely be one of the factors with family dynamics being only one such contributor.

Family should never be blamed for the onset of anorexia. There are certain systems and dynamics within the unit of the family, however, which can make one vulnerable to get it. In the presence of the condition, it is very important for family to take part in therapy and treatment. It can have a huge impact on the recovery process.

6. Dieting

Eating disorders can easily result from dieting. The emphasis placed on foods during dieting such as restrictions can play into the scenario of anorexia. Even the loss of weight due to being sick or reducing the intake of food for other reasons can be associated with spurring on anorexia.

Just because a person has one or more of the risk factors doesn’t mean they will ever have anorexia nervosa but it does warrant paying close attention to them and perhaps having a formal diagnosis completed.

Anorexia Recovery: Treatment Options

It is clear to see that Anorexia Nervosa is very dangerous and that it can inflict devastating consequences upon one’s life. That makes it vital to seek professional help from one who is fully trained in diagnosing and treating eating disorders.

Eating disorder treatment involves a good variety of people who are professionally trained in specific fields like a medical physician, a registered dietitian, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. Again, make sure that the professional you work with has training and experience working with eating disorder diagnoses.

Depending on how severe of a degree the Anorexia Nervosa falls into, or any one of the eating disorders, a variety of treatment settings can be considered. The level or degree of care that is required can be discussed while doing the initial evaluation and then a full treatment course can be recommended.

There are many possible options for treatment settings for anorexia. Those include intensive outpatient programs, inpatient setups, residential type treatment, full and complete hospitalization (which is considered to be the utmost care level).

Your professional counselor will be able to recommend the approach which is the most fitting to your situation based on such factors as the severity of your behaviors, your medical situation, the safety measures which need to be taken, and a number of other things.

There are a myriad of approaches when it comes to anorexia recovery and therapy for anorexia. Some examples of kinds of therapy available include dialectical behavioral, or DBT, cognitive behavioral, or CBT, commitment and acceptance and therapy, eye-movement desensitization, interpersonal psychotherapy, psychodynamic, and family therapy, and reprocessing of trauma.

You will be able to work with your therapist in order to discover the most optimal approach which is the best fit for your individual goals and symptoms. No two people are alike so your treatment will be customized to fit your individuality.

There’s no doubt that starting treatment for anorexia recovery can be a daunting thing to consider. It is frightening to think of change. The unknown is always scary and the unfamiliar is uncomfortable at best. But think about how uncomfortable it is to live with anorexia. It doesn’t just disappear. In fact, it is likely to get worse.

Anorexia recovery is definitely possible though and treatment is yours for the taking. All you have to do is reach out and take the hand that is being extended to you. The very first step is to take an initial evaluation to find out if you have Anorexia Nervosa. If you do, you can begin your journey to recovery and put an end to the nightmare so you can live the life that was intended for you to live.

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