What is Anorexia?

Anorexia Nervosa is both an eating disorder and a serious mental health condition. Typically, Anorexia is characterised by a persistent restriction or limitation of food intake which leads to a person becoming significantly underweight.

People who are diagnosed with this condition are often anxious about their weight and have intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. There is often a strong desire to be thin, and many people with anorexia will exercise excessively as well as severely restrict caloric intake in order to become thin.

According to the HSE, people with anorexia will avoid eating whenever they can, and often will develop an obsession with dieting and eating habits. For example, calories may be tracked excessively in food even though that person has no intention of eating it.

Even when a person with anorexia becomes extremely underweight, they still feel compelled to lose more weight. People with anorexia have described it as a battle within their minds or an ‘eating disorder voice’ which makes them feel they have to do what the ‘anorexia’ side of their head is telling them to do.

Warning Signs

According to BodyWhys, The Eating Disorder Association Ireland, the initial symptoms or warning signs of anorexia can resemble a normal diet change or healthier lifestyle choices in eating behaviours, however the obsession and drive behind the behaviour becomes more obvious and dangerous as the disorder progresses.

A person may start skipping meals, avoid eating with family or friends, and eliminating foods from their diet which has become rigid and limited. They may obsessively weigh their food and lie about what they have eaten or claimed to have eaten elsewhere. A person may start chasing the food around their plate and taking a long time to finish their meal and secretly disposing of their food.

Physical changes include weight loss, being cold with bad circulation, difficulty sleeping, dry thinning hair, growth of downy hair on the face and body as a result of the body’s efforts to keep itself warm, and loss of periods in females.

What often raises concern for a person with the condition is a marked change in their personality. Their friends or loved ones may notice that they start to withdraw from their life and socialising. They may seem to turn themselves inwards and have a strict routine which they cannot break. It is this together with changes in weight that often cause the alarm bells to start ringing.

Getting Help

Whether you’re seeking help for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to remember that recovery takes time. It is not a linear process, you may experience one step forward and two steps back but the main thing is that you are on the recovery journey.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to treatments and the recovery process. Anorexia affects each individual in different ways; behaviourally, cognitively, emotionally, and physically.

So, different approaches work for different people depending on their age, their overall well-being, the amount of time they’ve struggled with the disorder, and the individual’s willingness to get better.

There is a variety of treatment options so that people can find what works best for them, such as hospitalization, individual or group counseling, or medication to treat the symptoms often associated with anorexia such as depression or anxiety.

According to BodyWhys, treatment should ideally have a multi-disciplinary approach addressing the different aspects of the disorder. For example, a GP may help address the physical aspect, a dietitian, and a psychotherapist for the emotional or behavioural aspects.

A person with anorexia may find it difficult to acknowledge the seriousness of their disorder and the risks it poses to their mental and physical health. The recovery process can be very frightening and more often than not, is met with resistance. This is because the person’s mind-set may be distorted and they view recovery as a negative thing, not a positive. The length of time it takes to recover will vary from person to person.

This is why they need support, and for the people around them to understand the key aspects of their disorder, so they can help their loved one and reduce that fear of recovery. The communications officer from BodyWhys, Barry, said when supporting a loved one through their recovery family and friends should;

-Read up on the eating disorder

-Don’t let common myths colour your thinking

-Listen without judgement and avoid criticism

-Ask the person what they feel might be helpful

-To be prepared for denial and resistance

For additional guidance or information about anorexia and how to treat it, you can visit your GP and ask them what should the next step be, or visit the national eating disorder or Ireland’s website; bodywhys.ie, or call their helpline: 1890200444

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