As human beings, we need to eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and go to the bathroom to survive. Nobody feels guilty about going to the bathroom when they need to pee, or for breathing when their lungs need oxygen. These are basic human needs; however, some people experience the feeling of guilt or even shame for eating when they are hungry, and they sometimes even beat themselves up for it. This is what most people who struggle with anorexia nervosa deal with practically all day, every day.
The thoughts of anorexia nervosa
People who have an eating disorder may struggle with a morbid fear of gaining weight, but anorexia nervosa especially is characterized by having obsessive thoughts about losing weight by using food restriction methods. People who have anorexia firmly believe in the idea that beauty is associated with thinness and that they need to reach a certain weight to be “pretty”. When anorexics see the numbers on the scale decreasing, they feel proud of themselves but they generally aren’t satisfied. They find that as long as they are still surviving, they can keep challenging themselves to lose as much weight as they possibly can. The problem with this eating disorder in specific is that the people who are affected by it have extremely distorted perceptions about their bodies. Even though girls who are anorexic are generally severely underweight, they strongly believe that they are overweight and that as a result, they need to go through extreme diets. This may come as a surprise to some people but anorexia nervosa doesn’t only affect females, it affects males as well. The main difference is that males usually don’t feel that they are overweight. Instead, they may also find themselves to be too thin or scrawny, but their obsession isn’t related to losing weight, rather it revolves around becoming bigger, stronger, and more “buff”.
Anorexia nervosa features in other life aspects
In some sports like ballet or wrestling, people are required to maintain a certain weight to be able to compete or even participate in the sport. This can make people become obsessed with making sure that their weight fits the required standards. This could eventually lead to them engaging in anorexic behaviours until they reach a point where they are likely to receive a diagnosis for anorexia or another eating disorder.
Controlling our lives
People who have anorexia may generally feel that they lack autonomy. Most of the time, they find that they are not able to take charge of their lives, so they turn to their weight and try to take control of it. This leads them to actively focus on the numbers on the scale and do everything in their power to reach their desired weight. Usually, when they reach their target weight, they still don’t feel accomplished as their obsession with weight loss becomes far too severe. They work out excessively, they restrain from eating certain things that to them are “too fatty”, and they obsessively count their calorie intake after every meal they consume. Eventually, this leads to starvation, which comes with alarmingly severe side effects for the person’s both mental and physical health. There is a constant battle in their head about what and how much they should eat. They firmly believe that food is their biggest enemy, meaning that they have extremely unhealthy, and even destructive relationships with food. Starvation and food restriction in anorexia cause great distress because the person is forbidding themselves from eating, but they’re constantly thinking about food. It’s, therefore, extremely challenging for them to keep resisting and committing to their fast.
How physical health is affected
Anorexia can heavily affect and damage a person’s physical health. Some of the most significant symptoms include anemia, constipation, cardiac complications, and low blood sugar. These symptoms can cause seizures, hair loss, and damaged organs. Anorexia can also stunt a person’s growth. For females, it might dysregulate their menstrual cycles, and for males, it could lead to a lack of testosterone.
There’s always hope!
Luckily, there are nutritional rehabilitation programs as well as cognitive and behavioural interventions that can treat anorexia nervosa. During the therapeutic process, a person who has anorexia nervosa learns to identify and correct the thoughts they have about their bodies and about themselves. They also learn how to change their eating patterns, until they develop a new and healthier relationship with food. If you feel that you or someone you know may be struggling with aspects of this disorder, know that you are not alone. Therapy has the power to take care of you through every step of your recovery journey.