Do Not Wish You Had Anorexia Nervosa

“Dr Daniels, when you give talks on anorexia please let people know it really sucks to have this problem. I hate when I hear people say they wish they had anorexia. Do they wish to think of nothing but food 24/7? Do they wish for self hatred and disgust? Do they wish their brain would shrink, their organs would shut down, and they would feel cold all the time? Tell them anorexia is a monster that takes over the mind and body.” 

—-a 29 year old woman in treatment for anorexia nervosa

(Who by the way is doing great in treatment! Anorexia is completely 100% treatable with the proper treatment.)

​What is anorexia?

​It is the most deadly mental illness
It is NOT  just about looking thin.
A person never chooses anorexia.
Anorexia accounts for more deaths than any other type of mental illness.
The person with anorexia says she’s “fine”. But her brain has shrunk, and she’s in denial about the seriousness of  her condition. She may not even believe or acknowledge that she has anorexia. (Denial of the diagnosis and its seriousness is one of anorexia’s  main symptoms.)
Families often feel angry with the person suffering from anorexia.  They see her hurting herself and the people who love her. They may consider her to be a ‘selfish, stubborn, vain girl’ who won’t eat.  That is not what she is.
What is she? She’s sick, with a mental illness.
She didn’t choose this any more than someone chooses cancer.
Family members and friends feel frustrated that their efforts to help are often unhelpful. “Why can’t she just eat?” is a common sentiment of family and friends. It is akin to asking why someone without anorexia can’t just eat a sneaker.
Anorexia – as all eating disorders – is a complex disease. There’s no one cause. It is no one’s fault. It is not that simple.
Current research reveals that anorexia  can be inherited. Not everyone with the genetic predisposition will develop anorexia, though.
Environmental influences can trigger, and worsen, anorexia. Such triggers include: society’s obsession with thinness; puberty; dieting; going away to college; major life transitions;  a loss/death;  a traumatic world event, or a more personal one, like a breakup.
There are still a lot of misunderstandings about anorexia, even among health professionals.
Treatment can be hard to find. Ideally, treatment is  multi-disciplinary: on the treatment team are a psychologist, a physician and a nutritionist.
Risk factors for anorexia include:

  1. Worry about weight, shape
  2. Parents’ body dissatisfaction
  3. Family emphasis on appearance
  4. Childhood anxiety
  5. Harm avoidance
  6. Perfectionism
  7. Negative self-image
  8. Rigidity/inflexibility
  9. Goal-oriented family or personality
  10. Being considered “sensitive”

Signs of anorexia could include:

  1. Cutting food into small pieces or moving them around the plate instead of eating
  2. Exercising all the time, even when the weather is bad, they are hurt, or their schedule is busy
  3. Going to the bathroom right after meals
  4. Refusing to eat around other people
  5. Blotchy or yellow skin that is dry and covered with fine hair
  6. Confused or slow thinking, along with poor memory or judgment
  7. Dry mouth
  8. Extreme sensitivity to cold (wearing several layers of clothing to stay warm)
  9. Wasting away of muscle and loss of body fat

The key take home message here is that ANOREXIA IS COMPLETELY TREATABLE….and is unlikely to go away on its own.
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Dr. Elayne Daniels

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