Monday, July 18, 2011

Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

It’s only human to wish you looked different or could fix something about yourself. But when a preoccupation with being thin takes over your eating habits, thoughts, and life, it’s a sign of an eating disorder. When you have anorexia, the desire to lose weight becomes more important than anything else. You may even lose the ability to see yourself as you truly are.
Anorexia is a serious eating disorder. It can damage your health and even threaten your life. But you’re not alone. There’s help available when you’re ready to make a change. You deserve to be happy. Treatment will help you feel better and learn to value yourself.
Anorexia nervosa is a complex eating disorder with three key features:
  • refusal to maintain a healthy body weight
  • an intense fear of gaining weight
  • a distorted body image

Because of your dread of becoming fat or disgust with how your body looks, eating and mealtimes may be very stressful. And yet, what you can and can’t eat is practically all you can think about.
Thoughts about dieting, food, and your body may take up most of your day—leaving little time for friends, family, and other activities you used to enjoy. Life becomes a relentless pursuit of thinness and going to extremes to lose weight.
But no matter how skinny you become, it’s never enough.
While people with anorexia often deny having a problem, the truth is that anorexia is a serious and potentially deadly eating disorder. Fortunately, recovery is possible. With proper treatment and support, you or someone you care about can break anorexia’s self-destructive pattern and regain health and self-confidence.

Types of anorexia nervosa
There are two types of anorexia. In the restricting type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by restricting calories (following drastic diets, fasting, and exercising to excess). In the purging type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics.

What need does anorexia meet in your life?

It’s important to understand that anorexia meets a need in your life. For example, you may feel powerless in many parts of your life, but you can control what you eat. Saying “no” to food, getting the best of hunger, and controlling the number on the scale may make you feel strong and successful—at least for a short while. You may even come to enjoy your hunger pangs as reminders of a “special talent” that most people can’t achieve.
Anorexia may also be a way of distracting yourself from difficult emotions. When you spend most of your time thinking about food, dieting, and weight loss, you don’t have to face other problems in your life or deal with complicated emotions.
Unfortunately, any boost you get from starving yourself or shedding pounds is extremely short-lived. Dieting and weight loss can’t repair the negative self-image at the heart of anorexia. The only way to do that is to identify the emotional need that self-starvation fulfills and find other ways to meet it.

The difference between dieting and anorexia
Healthy Dieting
Healthy dieting is an attempt to control weight.Anorexia is an attempt to control your life and emotions.
Your self-esteem is based on more than just weight and body image.Your self-esteem is based entirely on how much you weigh and how thin you are.
You view weight loss as a way to improve your health and appearance.You view weight loss as a way to achieve happiness.
Your goal is to lose weight in a healthy way.Becoming thin is all that matters; health is not a concern.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia

Living with anorexia means you’re constantly hiding your habits. This makes it hard at first for friends and family to spot the warning signs. When confronted, you might try to explain away your disordered eating and wave away concerns. But as anorexia progresses, people close to you wont be able to deny their instincts that something is wrong—and neither should you.
As anorexia develops, you become increasingly preoccupied with the number on the scale, how you look in the mirror, and what you can and can’t eat.

Anorexic food behavior signs and symptoms

  • Dieting despite being thin – Following a severely restricted diet. Eating only certain low-calorie foods. Banning “bad” foods such as carbohydrates and fats.
  • Obsession with calories, fat grams, and nutrition – Reading food labels, measuring and weighing portions, keeping a food diary, reading diet books.
  • Pretending to eat or lying about eating – Hiding, playing with, or throwing away food to avoid eating. Making excuses to get out of meals (“I had a huge lunch” or “My stomach isn’t feeling good.”).
  • Preoccupation with food – Constantly thinking about food. Cooking for others, collecting recipes, reading food magazines, or making meal plans while eating very little.
  • Strange or secretive food rituals – Refusing to eat around others or in public places. Eating in rigid, ritualistic ways (e.g. cutting food “just so”, chewing food and spitting it out, using a specific plate).

Purging signs and symptoms

  • Using diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics – Abusing water pills, herbal appetite suppressants, prescription stimulants, ipecac syrup, and other drugs for weight loss.
  • Throwing up after eating – Frequently disappearing after meals or going to the bathroom. May run the water to disguise sounds of vomiting or reappear smelling like mouthwash or mints.
  • Compulsive exercising – Following a punishing exercise regimen aimed at burning calories. Exercising through injuries, illness, and bad weather. Working out extra hard after bingeing or eating something “bad.”

Anorexia nervosa causes and risk factors

There are no simple answers to the causes of anorexia and other eating disorders. Anorexia is a complex condition that arises from a combination of many social, emotional, and biological factors.  Although our culture’s idealization of thinness plays a powerful role, there are many other contributing factors, including your family environment, emotional difficulties, low self-esteem, and traumatic experiences you may have gone through in the past.

Psychological causes and risk factors for anorexia

People with anorexia are often perfectionists and overachievers. They’re the “good” daughters and sons who do what they’re told, excel in everything they do, and focus on pleasing others. But while they may appear to have it all together, inside they feel helpless, inadequate, and worthless. Through their harshly critical lens, if they’re not perfect, they’re a total failure.

Family and social pressures

In addition to the cultural pressure to be thin, there are other family and social pressures that can contribute to anorexia. This includes participation in an activity that demands slenderness, such as ballet, gymnastics, or modeling. It also includes having parents who are overly controlling, put a lot of emphasis on looks, diet themselves, or criticize their children’s bodies and appearance. Stressful life events—such as the onset of puberty, a breakup, or going away to school—can also trigger anorexia.

Biological causes of anorexia

Research suggests that a genetic predisposition to anorexia may run in families. If a girl has a sibling with anorexia, she is 10 to 20 times more likely than the general population to develop anorexia herself. Brain chemistry also plays a significant role. People with anorexia tend to have high levels of cortisol, the brain hormone most related to stress, and decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are associated with feelings of well-being.

Steps to anorexia recovery

  • Admit you have a problem. Up until now, you’ve been invested in the idea that life will be better—that you’ll finally feel good—if you lose more weight. The first step in anorexia recovery is admitting that your relentless pursuit of thinness is out of your control and acknowledging the physical and emotional damage that you’ve suffered because of it.
  • Talk to someone. It can be hard to talk about what you’re going through, especially if you’ve kept your anorexia a secret for a long time. You may be ashamed, ambivalent, or afraid. But it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. Find a good listener—someone who will support you as you try to get better.
  • Stay away from people, places, and activities that trigger your obsession with being thin. You may need to avoid looking at fashion or fitness magazines, spend less time with friends who constantly diet and talk about losing weight, and stay away from weight loss web sites and “pro-ana” sites that promote anorexia.
  • Seek professional help. The advice and support of trained eating disorder professionals can help you regain your health, learn to eat normally again, and develop healthier attitudes about food and your body.

Anorexia treatment and therapy

Since anorexia involves both mind and body, a team approach to treatment is often best. Those who may be involved in anorexia treatment include medical doctors, psychologists, counselors, and dieticians. The participation and support of family members also makes a big difference in treatment success. Having a team around you that you can trust and rely on will make recovery easier.
Treating anorexia involves three steps:
  • Getting back to a healthy weight
  • Starting to eat more food
  • Changing how you think about yourself and food

Medical treatment for anorexia

The first priority in anorexia treatment is addressing and stabilizing any serious health issues. Hospitalization may be necessary if you are dangerously malnourished or so distressed that you no longer want to live. You may also need to be hospitalized until you reach a less critical weight. Outpatient treatment is an option when you’re not in immediate medical danger.

Nutritional treatment for anorexia

A second component of anorexia treatment is nutritional counseling. A nutritionist or dietician will teach you about healthy eating and proper nutrition. The nutritionist will also help you develop and follow meal plans that include enough calories to reach or maintain a normal, healthy weight.

Counseling and therapy for anorexia

Counseling is crucial to anorexia treatment. Its goal is to identify the negative thoughts and feelings that fuel your eating disorder and replace them with healthier, less distorted beliefs. Another important goal of counseling is to teach you how to deal with difficult emotions, relationship problems, and stress in a productive, rather than a self-destructive, way.

Overcoming anorexia
It may seem like there’s no escape from your eating disorder, but recovery is within your reach. With treatment, support from others, and smart self-help strategies, you can overcome bulimia and gain true self-confidence.


  1. My heart is broken looking at this site! I'm an educator trying to get this very message across to the teens I teach... they are horrified by the pictures and information I've shared with them, but I'm fearfull that they still haven't quite realised how real it all is! I'm sorry for those of you who have known the suffering that goes with watching a loved one strugling with this...

  2. Thanks Ninon for your comment. I am a teacher as well, and I am very worried about the way teenagers conceive beauty nowadays. As teachers, it is our task to show them the damage they can cause themselves. Unfortunately, the mass media is contributing with the wrong ideas they have. Thanks so much for your comment.

  3. its hard to belive that people do that to themselves :(

  4. i think it is necessary that somebody tries to tell these kids the truth about what beauty really is and what matters in life. mass media certainly spins out of control and the kids get more and more confused about what the hell they should live according to. it is sad that the media has established the rule that skinny people are worth more than "fat" people and that you have to live according to it if you want to be "a winner." i wish somebody would have told me about eating disorders when I was a kid. i have an eating disorder since 8 years. i am okay now but it's a daily struggle to not fall back into old habits, to eat, to remind yourself that bony is not beautiful although, at the same time, you catch yourself thinking "it's actually not too bad, isn't it? just a few pounds?" somebody should tell the kids that it is indeed really bad, more than this. if it doesn't kill you right away, it takes over your mind and tortures you for the rest of your life. you will never let go of it. it's neither just a diet nor a phase nor something you can "recover" from. you "survive" but then you wake up and realize that you have killed the person you were before and there is no going back!

  5. Thanks so much for your comment. I totally agree with you.....And we need people like you who know about eating disorders and speak out about the dangers teenagers are dealing with if they have one. As adults it is our duty and our task to show people that mass media is wring with the image they consider beautiful. Thanks so much for your participation. I really appreciate it.

  6. I think it's necessary to tell you all to mind your own business. In a world when everything is supersized what is wrong with someone controling themselves. Some people want to be fat, some want to be thin. You say no one should dictate what should be considered beautiful. So stop! Bones are beautiful. I am not anorexic because I feel like crap about my self, my daddy never raped me, my mother never beat me. I have 3 healthy children, a job, a college education. Why don't all you people mind your own business and work on something that effects yourself. There are bigger world issues that how many calories i eat today.

  7. Bones are not beautiful at all. Congratulations! you think you have a perfect life....but you are wrong....You didnt mention the most important to have.....God. That is why that your life is empty and you are just trying to put some make up on it and disguise it. That is why you are so selfish that you dont care about what is happening to others. I hope your healthy children never face a problem like this.

  8. i hope people can learn about the affects of the media on teenagers i suffer from an eating disorder since i was 13 and i am now 18 struggling everyday but its successful thank god. i think the media has so much to answer to i personaly blame them and think they cause alot of this mess i decided i wasnt pretty and i was fat because i was always looking and magazines and all he models are skin and bones and eat nothing and they get called beautiful so i thought if i went like them i would be to.. i think people need to be told by people that have/ had experiance through the topic.

  9. Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate that people who have had or has an eating disorder tell us about their experience. I feel happy when I read they are overcoming this difficult situation. We have to tell teenagers and people in general that beauty comes from inside, from your actions, your faith in God and your love for other people. Not from bones and sickness............

  10. In a programme shown on UK telly comparing overeaters and undereaters and getting them to do a diet swap (I do not agree with all their methods but that is by the by) I have noticed that the undereaters usually have the lowest self esteem. Yes there is a lot of media pressure, but a girl or woman with a good sense of herself and strong self esteem is less vulnerable to it. Our young women need to be taught that they are good enough - clearly many of them are not feeling this!

    Thinness should not be so rewarded in society, and fat people should not be reviled, but there is no chance that this will happen - marketing thrives on insecurities, not happy healthy people!

  11. Thanks for your excellent comment. Unfortunately, we cannot do anything to change the way media promotes thinness and the high effect it causes especially on teenagers. Nevertheless, we can tell all women that they are already beautiful and they have to love and accept themselves the way they are. There is not point in comparing with other women. All of us are unique and valuable as human beings.

  12. i feel sorry for the people that go through this. i myself have not but some of my friends i think are going through this, they constantly exercise and go on diets or even at school tried not to eat anything. they even once tried to get me to join them by maing me feel bad! thankfully though i managed to get them off the diets but they're still going with other things and believe that they aren't good enough with just the way they are. thnkyou for at least giving me some ways to maybe help them, they are like my family and to see the ones you love go through this is hard so i really appriciate what you're doing to get people aware.

    the media only fills peoples minds with absolute crap about how they should or should not look and i'd almst started as well if it wasn't for my mum helping me. you are absolutly right we are all unique and shouldn't try and change that just from what someone else says!!

  13. I appreciate your comment so much. I am happy to you have mom who loves you next to you supporting you and guiding you through the right way. You are is sad to see the ones you love suffering because of one eating disorder. Congratulations for being strong and wise enough to refuse this kind of attitudes. It requires strength and self-esteem. We have to be patient with people around us who have one eating disorder because they are not going to accept they have a problem. Thank you so much and continue trying hard to help them. Love always blossoms!

  14. Humans are very interesting but weird creatures.
    Murdering, Eating diseases, Religions.

  15. Yes Jinny we are really interesting.....thanks for your comment.

  16. oh gosh that scares me!! i think i am fat but i wouldnt go that far!! there is a girl at my school who you can fit her wrist in the space of your index finger to your thumb and its not because she is just small like for a belt she has to get a cord and wrap it around her waist seven times. all because my gym coach weighed everyone to see what team he should put everyone on. that was when she was sexy and curvy

  17. Thanks Poppy for your comment. Unfortunately many school girls are becoming anorexic. I hope they can find the proper help to overcome her problem......

  18. I am doing a project for my Public Health course this semsester on prevention of anorexia in high fashioned industries. I love the videos and I would love to include them in my presentation. Are these your videos, and if so may I use them for my studies?

  19. hey Lauren....Thanks for your comment. it is so valuable for me. I took this videos from youtube. They are not mine. i just included them in this report about anorexia. U can use any material you like. If it is useful for you, I have some stories about people who died from anorexia and it is so worthy to know them. If you are interested tell me and I will give them to you. I wish you the best in your project. I know you will be great. God bless you.

  20. it is scary to see photos of others but if your not the one with that thought in your mind you cant understand what is going on or why they do it

  21. Bones are beautiful. I think that fragility is beautiful which is why I only date anorexic girls. My current girlfriend will drink 2 glasses of water a day and at most three pieces of lettuce every other day. I accept her for it because she is so fragile and delicate and needs me to take care of her. She takes vitamin supplements to get nutrients, and she works out 2 hours a day. She is perfectly healthy and she knows her body better than anyone else. She wouldn't do it if it were killing her.

  22. Well give her time........After you will enjoy putting flowers on her grave.....

  23. Hello there everyone. I look at these pics and read abt it, i went speachless for a moment. I think i'm becoming anorexic. All signs are there and i am aware of it. I'm extremely scared of eating. even eating a little i run and throw up bcs feels like i ate a lot. i check my weight 3-4 or more times a day. If i see scale just little after no i have i go crazy while on the orher side if i loose 1,2,3 lbs i don't get frustrated. I look at my self and think i'm really fat while others say i'm skin and bones. I'm 5'5" and 117 lbs. I never talked abt this to anyone U guys are the first to know it. I'm aware f what this could lead to, but i'm scared extremely scare to eat.

  24. Hello and thank u for your comment my dear anonymous. The most important thing here is that u are conscious u have a problem and u are becoming anorexic. I would recommend you to talk to a closer friend or to your mom. look for help immediately. I wish you the best, and I would like to hear about you soon darling. God bless you.

  25. What a horrible thing to do to yourself. I really feel for all the people with eating disorders who cannot see that their beauty does not depend on how they look or how much they weigh. It is really sad to see unique and blossoming people lose sight of what is truly important to them and waste themselves away. There was a girl in my school a few years ago who was really nice, but very thin- by the end of the year she had to be hospitalized because she had anorexia. It was tragic. I wholly support your cause to educate people about this illness. Best of luck!!!

  26. Thanks so much for your valuable comment. I am happy to have people participating and telling what they have witnessed people with this horrible disorder. We have to support them and show them that they are valuable for their feelings and their personality and not for their weight.......

  27. These women and men dont have a clue on what they are doing to themselfs. Im only 14 thankful for the body god gave me even though i question why im so short. But these before and after pictures make me think, why do they see themselfs so insecure about their body? You guys look fine! Women you are beautiful thick, fat, chunky, skinny, tall, short. God made you for a reason so keep it like that. Its you...Nobody is ever going to be the same as you, your unique in your own way. So why make yourself dissapear and suffer becase of this disease. This whole week in heealth this is all we're talking about. Love yourself the way you are and i garantee everybody will love you back. Stop anorexia and obesity. You are who you are. Im a strong lady and i never cry over stuff since i was 5 but the video of Elle made bawled me into tears.

  28. Valeria that is wonderful of you to see the problems at such a young age. I hope you do best with that!
    Blackrainbow, could you show me where to see the stories of people dying from this disorder? I would love to incorperate that into my presentation.

  29. Hello Valeria. I am so happy to see a very young girl with a very wise point of view about beauty and self esteem. I wish you can inspire other girls to share your way of thinking. God bless you.

  30. hello again Lauren. You can visit this blog. It has so many real stories about people suffering these eating disorders. I was shocked when I read some of these stories. I hope they can be usefulin your presentation

  31. Anorexia is just taking concern over weight to the extreme. If one were to avoid sugar and snack foods, then most weight problems would not have to be worried about.And if you simply cannot go without your sweets, you need an active lifestyle. But not eating food at all is not what nature intended. Your body needs fuel to run and without food, your body doesn't run like it should. When I eat a few hours too late my blood sugar goes low and my mind goes all spacey and I tend to forget little things and my brain gets foggy. Going without adequate meals means that an individual is living like this all the time. The body is literally eating itself to stay alive.

  32. Great comment. Thanks you so much for those wise words.

  33. I was also looking for help on addiction. I found an anorexia treatment programs center that really helped me out.