10 things you should know about anorexia

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Most people are somewhat aware of what anorexia is. They know it is an eating disorder and is largely characterized by avoiding eating. But, there is much more to know about the complex and deadly eating disorder affecting millions of people in America alone. Here are ten facts to help you better understand and identify anorexia in yourself and loved ones.

1) Anorexia is a mental illness

Eating disorders are often thought of as a choice or just a set of behaviors. Many people believe that young women essentially choose to restrict their food choices in order to lose weight, but research has shown eating disorders are as much a mental illness borne from genetics as it is about losing weight or choosing to eat less. On this note, anorexia can’t be treated by telling someone to “eat more” or “put on a few pounds.” Like any mental illness, it requires treatment to properly address and recover from.

2) Culture does play a role

While eating disorders are a mental illness, there is also strong evidence suggesting that cultural norms can play a role in the development of anorexia. Until recently, eating disorders have been most common in western countries where dieting is common and there is an increased focus on being thin. However, as globalization brings advertisements showing “perfect bodies” to non-western countries, the rates of eating disorders in these areas has also increased.

3) Anorexia is tied to unrealistic body image

Source: Luaxan/DeviantArt

Many people with anorexia view their body differently than it may be in reality. They tend to see themselves as fat, even as they are quickly becoming emaciated and overly thin. This condition is known as body dysmorphia and is often one of the first signs of an eating disorder. The body dysmorphia can be so powerful that when people with anorexia are asked to draw themselves, they typically depict themselves as being overweight, no matter what their current weight actually is.

4) Anyone can develop anorexia

It’s often thought that eating disorders – anorexia in particular – are “young women’s issues.” The archetypal anorexic person is generally thought to be a young, white woman. But, that belief isn’t rooted in reality. In fact, both men and women of all ages and races can live with an eating disorder. Eating disorder treatment facilities are seeing an increase in middle-aged or older patients, including patients in their 80’s.

5) Anorexia affects more than your waistline

Most of the conversation about eating disorders like anorexia is focused on weight and eating habits. The most common symptom associated with anorexia is a skeletally thin frame and malnourishment, but there are several severe symptoms that can appear well before any notable changes in weight. These can include weakening bones, constant fatigue, decreased immune system abilities, and issues with menstruation.

6) Anorexia can be deadly

Just as eating disorders are brushed off as a teen problem, they are often underestimated. Anorexia is considered the most deadly mental illness because a high number of people who struggle with the disease without treatment succumb to conditions related to their anorexia. Organ failure is especially common due to lack of nutrition.

7) Anorexia can hide in plain sight

It is commonly thought that identifying anorexic people is as easy as spotting the overly thin person or the person who isn’t eating when everyone else is. However, those living with the eating disorder tend to keep their condition very secret. They can go to extreme lengths to make it seem they are eating while disposing of the food later in secret. There may also be no visible signs of the damage occurring within the body as malnutrition takes its toll.

8) There is no shame in needing help

People living with anorexia – especially men – are often ashamed to admit to their condition or seek treatment. Social stigmas that encourage not talking about the condition and the belief that eating disorders are a “weakness” are so wide-spread that only 1 in 10 people who live with eating disorders ever seek help. However, it is important to know that an eating disorder is not a weakness any more than coming down with the flu is. Eating disorders are an illness and there is no shame in seeking treatment for any illness, especially one as dangerous as anorexia.

9) Recovery is possible

It is true that a large number of people who enter treatment for anorexia experience some form of relapse during their path to recovery. But, that doesn’t mean there is no hope. Recent studies have shown that as many as two-thirds of all people who enter treatment for anorexia eventually achieve a full recovery, even when there are speedbumps along the way.

10) What to do if you or someone you know is living with anorexia

The most important thing you can do for yourself or a loved one with anorexia is to take the matter seriously and seek professional help. There are a number of resources available, such as the National Eating Disorder Associations helpline. You can call 800-931-2237 or even text “NEDA” to 741741 for immediate assistance. Brookhaven Hospital can also provide support, assistance, and treatment. Just call 888-298-4673 and we can answer any questions you have and help you find the best treatment options for your situation.

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