Eating is a routine activity for most of us. Mostly we don’t even give a thought about eating as an activity, it’s a part of our daily routine, and hence giving much thought to it might not have occurred to many of us.
However, there are many people who suffer from a range of eating disorders, which makes the simplest of activities- eating, hell for them.
Eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, are mental disorders, specifically behavioural and emotional conditions, characterised by severe and persistent disturbances in behaviours related to eating and the stressful emotions and thoughts associated with them.
There is a general misconception amongst people that an eating disorder is a lifestyle choice and is controllable. This is completely false. An eating disorder is just like any other disorder, which develops due to one or more antecedent factors, and is then maintained because of certain maintaining factors, and is out of the individual’s control most of the time.
Anorexia Nervosa, simply called Anorexia, is one such eating disorder. It has been defined as “an eating disorder, occurring most frequently in adolescent girls, that involves persistent refusal of food, excessive fear of weight gain, refusal to maintain minimally normal body weight, disturbed perception of body image, and amenorrhea (absence of at least three menstrual periods)” by American Psychological Association (APA) dictionary.
Anorexia is driven by the fear of disturbing a highly irrational and unsustainable body weight/figure, which can be influenced from a number of sources such as television, internet, body shaming, body comparisons etc. People who have anorexia often equate their self worth and value with their thinness, and hence this disorder has its roots more in body image issues than in eating individually. Restricting the diet simply becomes a means to achieve an unsustainable and unhealthy body weight/figure.
Signs & Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
The symptoms of anorexia are physical as well as emotional and behavioural.
- Frail and Thin body figure due to diet problems
- Extremely low body weight
- Chronic fatigue and tiredness
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood level in extremities (fingers, nails, toes)
Emotional and Behavioural Symptoms
- Skipping meals for even days at a stretch
- Avoiding eating in public
- Eating only extremely low portions of meals
- Excessive and unnecessary levels of exercise with low level of nutrition intake
- Bingeing (eating large amounts of food in one go) and then purging oneself of it through self-induced vomit.
- Not admitting hunger
- Lying about the amount if food eaten
- Social withdrawal
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) classifies Anorexia in Feeding and Eating Disorders class, and has mentioned the criteria of diagnosing an individual Anorexia Nervosa as
- Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements, leading to a significant low body weight in the context of the age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health (less than minimally normal/expected)
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain.
- Have a distorted view of themselves and of their condition.
Mental health professionals can further classify Anorexia into one of the two subtypes (Moskowitz & Weiselberg, 2017):
- Restricting Type- This subtype is for people who persistently restrict their diet to extremely low levels, which can be fatal in the long run. People in this subtype do not involve in binge eating, they restrict their diet altogether.
- Binge Eating/Purging Type- This subtype is for people who indulge in binge eating and then purging behaviours. Such individuals will eat large amounts of food and then experience feelings of guilt and shame, and in order to get rid of these emotions, they try to remove the binge-eaten food through the use of laxatives or self-induced vomit.
Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa, like other eating disorders, can often be difficult because it is really tough for individuals suffering from it, even admitting to their unhealthy eating habits, let alone seeking professional help. Hence if you see someone or know of someone who is struggling with unhealthy eating habits, or you yourself have body image issues, or have been subjected to body shaming, bullying etc. which in turn is affecting your eating habits and overall health, then seek help immediately.
Mind Unwynd has a plethora of well-qualified and experienced mental health practitioners who will be more than happy to help you get through such tough situations, helping you enable & empower yourself. If you need mental health support, reach out to us on the provided email id, or message us on any social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn).
Cowden, S. (2020, July 1). How is anorexia nervosa diagnosed? Verywell Mind. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/diagnostic-criteria-for-anorexia-nervosa-1138312.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, February 20). Anorexia nervosa. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 25, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/symptoms-causes/syc-20353591.
Moskowitz L, Weiselberg E. 2017. Anorexia Nervosa/Atypical Anorexia Nervosa. Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2017;47(4):70–84. doi:10.1016/j.cppeds.