Anorexia nervosa, commonly called anorexia, is a serious eating disorder where sufferers adopt extreme and unhealthy ways to avoid gaining weight or to drastically lose weight. This disorder can affect both sexes, though we mostly hear of female teenagers and young adults being affected by it.

Each individual may have separate reasons for developing anorexia, e.g., genes, peer pressure, mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety or depression, or even past trauma.

It is difficult to diagnose anorexia in the early stages, as anorexics themselves may not know they are experiencing it. Most anorexics are also reserved, only making others to notice it when severe weight loss is seen.

Most anorexics have distorted and negative images about their body size and shape. They see themselves as fat or obese and are constantly obsessed about being reed thin like famous celebrities such as runway supermodels, and the younger generation of singers and actors.

Anorexics constantly check their bodies in the mirror, take body measurements and check for visible body fat. This only increases body dissatisfaction and anxiety and brings on the act of restricting food intake.

Anorexia sufferers find weight loss more thrilling than eating (the thinner, the better), which makes the disorder very difficult to overcome.

Anorexia can be broken down into two types:

  • binge eating/purging anorexia
  • restrictive anorexia

Binge eating/purging anorexia

Those who suffer binge eating / purging do eat, but quickly expel whatever they have eaten either by vomiting or by using medications like diuretics or laxatives.

Diuretics are also known as “water pills” as they help remove water from the body. People who suffer from high blood pressure or edema (swelling in certain parts of the body) are prescribed diuretics.

Diuretics are used by anorexics, as they think this will help them reduce weight. However, only water is lost temporarily, and is gained back once you drink anything.

The danger of overusing diuretics is in time your body will start holding on to water to offset the effects of the diuretic. You may also get very low blood pressure.

Other dangerous side effects of taking diuretics without a doctor’s prescription are dehydration which could lead to kidney damage, irregular heartbeat, constipation and dizziness.

As many of us know, laxatives are used to treat constipation, by triggering a bowel movement.

For an anorexic, taking a laxative is the easy way of getting out food that was just eaten, before the body can absorb the calories. However, most calories and fat are absorbed in the small intestine, and the waste products, and some minerals together with water move on to the large intestine.

Here again, just like diuretics, mostly water is lost. Over time, laxative abuse can damage your intestines and increase chances of getting colon cancer.

Restrictive anorexia

Anorexics who constantly deny they are hungry and refuse to eat, suffer from restrictive anorexia.

The hormones estrogen and oxytocin are involved in fear control. Having an imbalance in either hormone can incite fear in gaining weight in anorexic people, hence resulting in refusal to eat.

Signs of an anorexic person

Anorexic people have certain giveaways that can be spotted by a trained eye. These giveaways may include:

Food rituals – cutting food into tiny pieces, counting calories, checking food portion sizes.

Alcohol or substance abuse – these may be used to suppress appetite.

Excessive exercise or movement – those suffering from restrictive anorexia (80%) often exercise constantly to lose weight, compared to those suffering from binge eating/purging anorexia.

Anorexics also tend to stand, walk or fidget more frequently, presumably to burn off more calories.

Disappearing to the toilet immediately after meals – binge eating/purging anorexics think they must get the food and fat out of their systems once they feel full, failing which they will get fat. They will try their best to either vomit or purge out their meals with laxatives or diuretics.

Symptoms that become evident in time

If detected and treated early, an anorexic sufferer can make a full recovery. However, when anorexia progresses to a severe stage whereby food intake is drastically restricted, organ failure sets in which can even result in death.

Family members, close friends, and counselling are all helpful in providing much needed moral support to an anorexic undergoing treatment. Your doctor may suggest consulting a psychiatrist as well, if need be.

An anorexic must also have the desire and strong willpower to overcome the disorder, as it is very easy to lapse mid-way. Anorexics must slowly learn to accept the fact that everybody comes in different body sizes and shapes; there is no single one-size-fits-all “perfect” body size or shape.

This article is meant to provide some general information on anorexia, and should in no way be taken as medical advice. Readers are always advised to consult their doctors for proper medical information.

By Aaron
24th August 19:50 2020

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