When you start talking about eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa tends to be the first thing people think of, yet in reality it’s the eating disorder with the fewest number of sufferers, accounting for around 10% of all those diagnosed eating disorders.
Once crudely referred to as ‘the slimmers disease’, Anorexia is in fact a serious illness and carries the highest mortality rate of all mental health conditions and is as far removed from vanity as anything can get. The name ‘Anorexia Nervosa’ in it’s most literal form means a ‘nervous loss of appetite’ and refers to deliberate self-starvation that stems from psychological or emotional triggers. It’s a common misconception that Anorexia is the teenage girl of eating disorders, and while it’s true that the majority of sufferers may be young females, Anorexia also affects boys and a wide cross-section of all adults – including the elderly. Believing you sit outside expected ‘norms’ of a condition like Anorexia can make it so much harder to ask for help – or more difficult to spot in someone else. As with all eating disorders, we have to leave preconceptions at the door.
Similarly to Bulimia, Anorexia may be differ from person to person. Some sufferers may restrict particular food groups, or limit eating to certain times of the day or night, while others may starve for several days a time and have episodes of appearing to eat normally or even binge eating. Many sufferers may also use laxatives or diuretics to try and reduce body weight. Diagnosis of Anorexia often occurs when a persons weight drops 15% below average for height and weight, alongside a preoccupation with food and fear of weight gain. Even at a dangerously low weight, someone struggling with Anorexia may still believe they’re actually morbidly obese, which can be incredibly difficult for friends and family members to understand and deal with.
‘I learned that courage wasn’t the absence of fear, but triumph over it’ Nelson Mandela
Recovery from Anorexia can be a long process with many setbacks along the way, but Beat reports that around half of all sufferers will find complete freedom. Recovery from anything involves managing expectations, and accepting that being ‘better’ won’t guarantee that life is perfect or free from those days when you don’t like what you see in the mirror. It’s possible to learn how to hold on to recovery through all things, but in order to do that it’s important to address the underlying issues that caused the eating disorder to develop in the first place. Counselling, CBT, medication and sometimes in-patient treatment to assist with safe weight gain may all be options for those affected by Anorexia, but the first step is to acknowledge that help is needed, and allow yourself to be looked after.
Listen and trust those who love you the most: Anorexia lies.