The Truth About Anorexia
Facts that lead to freedom, with the help of God.
by Laurie Glass
Are you afraid to eat? Afraid of getting fat? Do you restrict what you eat when something in your life feels out of control? Do you regularly criticize yourself? Do you expect perfection from yourself? Do painful events haunt you that you’ve never been able to talk about? Whether these thoughts or feelings are occasional or continual, you know something isn’t right. Perhaps you have anorexia or some other type of eating disorder.
You aren’t alone. Millions of people suffer from eating disorders. Although anorexia is more prevalent among adolescent girls, males also suffer. In addition, adult onset of anorexia is on the rise.
Admitting you have a problem and educating yourself about it are the first steps toward breaking free. To assist you, here are the signs, health problems, and underlying issues associated with anorexia, as well as treatment options and some personal encouragement. If you don’t have anorexia but know someone who does, you’ll also find helpful tips.
Common signs and behaviors
A few of the more common behaviors appear below. Keep in mind that only a professional can diagnose anorexia and that you need not have all these signs to be in trouble.
- weight loss and weighing obsessively
- taking diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives
- fear of food and of becoming overweight
- obsessing over food intake, counting calories
- unusual food behaviors or rituals, such as chewing food but not swallowing it, not allowing food to touch the lips, or cooking for others but not eating any of the food
These behaviors carry serious consequences. Some of them are
- heart and blood pressure problems
- digestive disturbances and dehydration
- electrolyte imbalances
- dental problems
- lack of menstrual periods
- hair loss
For a more complete list of physical consequences of anorexic behaviors, visit Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center (www.edreferral.com).
How does a person stop behaviors that cause such physical damage? By addressing underlying issues that cause the behaviors. Below is a list of common causes, but the possibilities are endless, depending on each person’s unique situation and personality.
- distorted body image
- low self-esteem
- comparison with others
- desire for control
- drive for perfection
- loss/grieving of any kind
- feelings of inadequacy
- major life changes
- inadequate coping skills
- abuse of any kind
So where does one turn to work through such overwhelming thoughts and emotions while addressing immediate medical concerns? Since eating disorders are so complicated, a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects is ideal. While medical concerns sometimes make sudden weight gain imperative, increased food intake alone is not the solution. Professionals specialize in treating eating disorders. Because they aren’t available everywhere, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of other professionals.
- A medical provider monitors the individual’s health and weight.
- A dietitian educates and counsels the person regarding an individualized meal plan and attitudes/beliefs concerning food.
- A counselor/therapist aids the client in working through underlying issues.
- A pastor may take on a role similar to a therapist, depending on his/her expertise. In addition, the pastor can help the client see God’s role in the recovery process.
- Support groups assure the anorexic that he/she is not alone and provide needed validation and support. Online message boards and chat rooms offer support.
- Inpatient programs allow a patient to focus solely on recovery, addressing various needs in a supportive setting.
- Outpatient programs and day or partial hospitalization care offer the patient an intense treatment plan and flexibility during non-treatment hours.
Several treatment combinations are possible. Living in a more remote area will pose unique challenges in finding help and support. In this case, the individual will have to make the most of what’s available and not allow limited resources to stand in the way of recovery.
Words of caution
You may be afraid to reach out for help, but remember that without treatment, eating disorders can be fatal. Although it’s difficult to take those first steps, doing so could save your life. Regardless of how you feel about yourself or your situation now, you deserve to get the help and support you need.
It may take some time to find what works best for you. You may even need to try more than one doctor, dietitian, counselor, or support group to find the one that best suits your needs. However, don’t allow a disappointing experience to prevent you from trying other options and getting needed support. The right help for you is out there.
You may be in the early stages of anorexia and/or have few of the signs and symptoms listed, but there’s no need to allow matters to get worse before seeking help. You are wise to prevent the disorder from progressing any further, as it likely will if you don’t address it.
Some people suffer from a combination of eating disorders. Perhaps this is the case for you. Maybe you can relate to just a few of the signs and symptoms of anorexia, but you also practice behaviors that relate to bulimia, for example. In addition, there is an eating disorder referred to as EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified), which indicates that though not all the anorexia criteria are met, the problem is still real and deserves treatment as much as any other eating disorder. A health care professional will diagnose you so you’ll know what you’re dealing with specifically. If you’re struggling with food issues in any form, you can and should seek help.
Friends and family
Perhaps you don’t have anorexia yourself, but you can identify the behaviors in someone you know. As a friend or family member, you can help the person in a number of ways.
- Research anorexia to gain a better understanding and to find valuable information on approaching the person.
- Broach the subject in a non-threatening manner, voicing your observations and concerns privately when there’s time to discuss the matter.
- Offer to assist the person in finding help. Allow him/her space and privacy to deal with personal issues without feeling like he/she needs to report all the details of recovery.
- Listen to the concerns of the individual and focus on those, not on what the person is eating or on other anorexic behaviors. Be patient and realize that anorexia is complicated and that the recovery process is characterized by numerous ups and downs and may take longer than you expect.
- Try not to take it personally if the individual takes out any frustrations on you. Anorexia may be the largest struggle he/she has ever faced. Realize that you alone cannot help this person. Your support is vital, but this is a complicated disorder that requires appropriate treatment to overcome.
- Ask what you can do to help.
- Even though you may not share the same struggle, think of the most difficult problem in your own life. Think of the issue that gives you the most guilt and shame. Is it difficult for you to talk about? Do you feel hopeless or afraid? How would you want someone to help you?
- Do not ignore the problem. Recognize this is a difficult subject for the person to discuss, so your help is needed to open that door. Although the person suffering may not be open to your help initially, he/she doesn’t deserve silence but needs someone to care enough to reach out.
A word of encouragement
In battling anorexia, knowing the truth is a powerful weapon. When you learn to listen intently to your thoughts, you’ll recognize the lies you believe about yourself. You may think you don’t deserve to get better, you are fat, or you’ll lose your identity if you break free of anorexia. As you replace those falsehoods with the truth, you’ll progress in your recovery. You may even want to write down the specific negative thoughts you have along with corresponding truths. Replacing lies with the truth is a vital part of the recovery process.
A better life
God has a better life waiting for you full of peace, joy, and contentment. You don’t have to live under anorexia’s control any longer. You can be free.
Recognizing and admitting that you have anorexia is the first step toward that freedom. Starting treatment early will help you to avoid health damage. Explore your treatment options, and find what works best for you.
While addressing food and body image issues, remember it’s equally important to work through what’s causing them. Know that it’s OK to lean on trusted friends and family for support and, most of all, on the unfailing God.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (www.anad.org)
Eating Disorder Referral and Information (www.edreferral.com)
Mirror Mirror Eating Disorders (www.mirror-mirror.org)