Is Anorexia Counseling Right For Me?
Eating disorders aren’t selective; they make friends with people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and races. Body dissatisfaction is only one, albeit very important, component off which they thrive: perfectionism, low self-esteem, the need for autonomy (control), or a history of trauma (sexual abuse, bullying) can encourage the development of an eating disorder—but so can your genetics and your culture. Eating disorders have a tendency to run in families and your culture shapes how you view beauty: whether you will find thicker bodies to be attractive or become programmed to equate beauty with thinness.
Eating disorders can be deceptively attractive because they can make you feel good about yourself when you lose weight; but the sinister truth is this: Eating disorders kill.
Every 62 minutes in fact. And among the many, diverse psychiatric conditions, Anorexia Nervosa is identified as the leading cause of death—yes, even outranking suicide—among all individuals, who will receive a mental health diagnosis.
But, fortunately, recovery is possible, and we can help!
What Is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by self-starvation and obsessive efforts to lose weight despite being classified as medically and dangerously underweight. The compulsion to lose weight is underpinned by a distorted perception of the body—many individuals with anorexia will perceive themselves as being overweight despite appearing to the external world as emaciated.
The DSM-5 identifies two varieties of Anorexia Nervosa:
- Restricting subtype – when an individual minimizes his or her caloric intake to the point of malnourishment and dangerous weight loss (This differs from simple dieting, in which weight loss is executed gradually and healthily)
- Bingeing/Purging subtype – when an individual uses calorie restriction to lose weight (as above) but engages in episodic bingeing (consuming large quantities of food in a single sitting) and subsequent purging (vomiting, misuse of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, etc.) to maintain his or her pre-binge weight
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa?
Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa may demonstrate the following warning signs:
- Rumination: you think obsessively and fretfully about food and weight loss
- Body dissatisfaction: your vision of a perfect body type that others would consider “deserving of love” is unrealistically thin and the opposite of how you perceive your own body (regardless of your weight)
- You experience intrusive thoughts concerning weight loss that serve as the foundation for compulsive behaviors. You may:
- Closely monitor your caloric intake through food restriction or an avoidance of “problematic” foods (e.g. the willful and complete exclusion of carbohydrates and fatty foods from your diet)
- Frequently weigh yourself or hide weighing scales throughout the house for easy access
- Exercise beyond your body’s capacity for exertion
- Critique your bodily imperfections for hours in the mirror
- You establish secretive eating rituals that others find bizarre. You may:
- Proceed to cut your meals into smaller and smaller portions to encourage yourself to eat less
- Methodically arrange and consume all of the food on your plate in a very particular order
- Faithfully implement measuring devices to ensure that you aren’t “over-eating”
- Eat as slowly as possible and designate specific times of day to perform your meal ritual
- When the anxiety of eating food becomes unbearable, you depart from meals abruptly to purge (vomit, administer laxatives) in the privacy of the bathroom
- If you feel as though you’ve broken your diet by eating an “unacceptable” amount, you may berate or punish yourself (cutting, burning, etc.)
- When you are confronted about your rapid weight loss or skeletal appearance, you deny having a problem with dieting or body image
- As your health begins to deteriorate you may display the following physical indicators: fatigue, dizziness, fainting, hair loss, nail deterioration, dry skin, constipation, or (for females) absent menstruation
- Psychological indicators may include: depression, heightened anxiety or irritability, mood swings, or social withdrawal
What Are the Long-Term Health Consequences of Anorexia?
Anorexia Nervosa is not a psychological condition that will reach a point of stasis. Without qualified intervention, your health will follow a worsening trajectory until your condition becomes life-threatening. Serious complications of anorexia may include:
- Heart Problems: poor circulation or low blood pressure, depressed heart rate, irregular heart rhythm, myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Respiratory failure
- Muscular Atrophy (muscle tone deteriorates from lack of nourishment)
- Anemia (iron deficiency)
- Osteoporosis (inadequate intake of calcium in adolescence can cause osteoporosis (accelerated bone loss and deaccelerated bone repair) in later life; osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and prone to breakage)
- Dehydration (enhances your risk of kidney failure)
- Electrolyte imbalance (promotes fatigue, the simple act of walking becomes “exhausting”, contributes to organ failure)
- Edema (water-retention; particularly in the abdominal region)
- Gastrointestinal problems (constipation, ulcerations and other bacterial infections)
- Fertility problems or hormonal imbalances
- Hypothermia (difficulty regulating body temperature following a reduction in body fat)
- Appearance of Lanugo, baby-fine hair that covers the body to compensate for heat loss
How Can Anorexia Counseling & Therapy Help My Condition?
Without proper treatment, Anorexia Nervosa can advance into a potentially fatal medical condition. But with skilled intervention, recovery is possible! An effective therapeutic strategy should combine the medical knowledge of physicians and counselors to evaluate your needs:
- Most importantly, your recovery plan should give precedence to stabilizing your health. Becoming critically underweight can result in respiratory, cardiac, or kidney failure; stroke or irreversible brain damage; infertility; or even, death: Therefore, prompt medical treatment to restore your weight is crucial!
- After your medical needs have been evaluated, your counselor will assist you to deconstruct unhealthy perceptions that you may hold about your body image and weight loss. You may examine your emotional reaction to food in the context of individual therapy sessions, in the presence of a nutritionist who can supply you with a meal plan that you enjoy following, as a member of a therapy group, or in conjunction with family or couples counseling. In addition, your counselor will equip you with tools you need in order to control your impulses to restrict food, purge, or engage in ritualistic eating habits; and help you to identify compounding factors that may be influencing your condition (for example, belonging to team sports such as gymnastics or wrestling that pressure participants to fall within ideal weight ranges, or undergoing a stressful life transition or traumatic event, etc.)
- Your counselor may also suggest that you supplement traditional therapy with innovative healing techniques, such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, equine therapy, or expressive arts—that can help diminish your anxiety as you confront long-held beliefs about food and body image
- Your therapist will assess you for conditions, such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or PTSD, that tend to occur simultaneously with Anorexia Nervosa, and connect you with qualified treatment for each condition
- As needed, your therapist may recommend that you receive a higher level of care, and offer you with options for residential treatment programs or inpatient care facilities that can better attend to your medical needs as you recover
Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa is a long road; but you deserve to live a life that is happier, healthier, and fuller!