***Trigger Warning: Eating disorders***
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, over 9% of the entire world's population is affected by an eating disorder. They also rank second behind opiate overdose as the deadliest mental illness. Eating disorders have become very prevalent recently, especially in the United States. This is most likely related to the media's poor portrayal of what the new "ideal" is supposed to be. But that's an entirely different story, so we'll save that for another time. For now, I want to discuss anorexia nervosa and exactly what it is.
What is anorexia nervosa?
According to Psychology Today, anorexia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder manifested when a person refuses to eat an adequate amount of food or is unable to maintain the minimal weight for a person's body mass index. In other words, you're constantly hungry, but you'd rather die than ingest anything at all.
What are the signs of anorexia nervosa?
Some signs that someone is struggling with anorexia include:
Hyper focusing on food and meal times
Mentioning having a fear of gaining weight
Drastic weight loss
Restricting food intake
Refusal to be around others when eating
Feeling self-conscious about their appearance
What causes anorexia nervosa?
Though there is no one cause of anorexia, here are some factors that put an individual at risk for developing this disorder:
Family history of eating disorders (and other mental illnesses)
Personal history of eating disorders (and other mental illnesses)
Highly correlated with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders
Having a more rigid and sensitive personality
The media and social media's portrayal of the "perfect body"
Societal pressure to remain thin
Highly values their appearance and focuses on flaws
Western culture in general
Long-term consequences of anorexia nervosa.
With the highest mortality rate out of every mental illness, anorexia is an extremely dangerous illness and can cause a multitude of problems for someone's both physical and mental health. The illness attacks your entire body, and some of the time the damage is too severe to reverse. Some health consequences include:
Bone issues such as:
Nerve damage (affects brain and body)
Peripheral neuropathy (tingling or numbing sensation in hands and/or feet)
Heart disease (a major cause of death for those with severe anorexia)
Other mental illnesses such as:
Higher risk for suicide
Permanent brain damage
Throws hormones out of whack
How to help: What to say and what NOT to say.
DON'T say: "You look so skinny! How do you stay so thin?"
This idealizes a thin body type and can make the person feel worse about themselves.
DO say: "I love you unconditionally."
DON'T say: "You look so healthy!"
This can be taken as a sneaky way to call someone fat/heavier.
DO say: "Are you doing okay? I'm always here for you if you need anything."
DON'T say: "Just eat! It's not that hard."
To someone with anorexia, something as simple as eating is the hardest task in the world. Telling them this minimizes their pain and suffering and comes off as rude and judgy.
DO say: "Have you considered getting professional help from someone?"
This is a nonjudgmental way to advise someone to get help. Instead of implying they need help, you're simply offering the suggestion.
How do you treat anorexia nervosa?
The earlier you start treatment for any eating disorder the better. Waiting too long to seek professional help can allow your eating habits (or lack thereof) to attack your entire body. Your chances of recovery are also much higher the earlier you start treatment. Some of the most effective treatment measures for anorexia include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Having a solid, reliant support system
Although anorexia nervosa (along with other eating disorders) is extremely dangerous and has a high mortality rate, recovery is possible. Get help now or support a friend through this difficult time. For more resources check out my Resources page.