Anorexics and bulimics, like those who are overweight, also have a poor body image, but use starvation and excess exercise as a means of punishment for looking and feeling this way. They typically report hating their bodies and seeing themselves as fat when they look in the mirror, even when they are average or below average in weight. Just like those who overeat, those who purge are looking for the control that this gives them over their bodies.
Overweight people may see the fat as protection against further assaults; those who binge and purge or starve themselves may feel they are punishing themselves for their attractiveness causing the assault in the first place.
Anorexia targets more females and typically begins around the onset of puberty. Anorexics do not purge or eat large amounts of food. This disorder is marked by starvation, excess exercise and often use of laxatives. Anorexia can cause brittle skin, loss of the menstrual cycle, irregular heartbeat, stunted growth, bone loss and shortness of breath.
All of these disorders can result in death if not addressed properly. At the roots of all of these is self-loathing. Feelings of being dirty, ashamed or embarrassed at what happened can ultimately manifest itself in these disorders.
Breaking the cycle is not as simple as putting down the fork, convincing someone that they are not fat or trying to stop someone from purging. Unless the root of the problem is resolved, the behaviors will continue. Often intervention is needed if the disorder is advanced. Even seemingly successful treatments will often result in relapse. That is because the problem is deeper than the actual eating and exercise habits.
For myself, I was grateful for the isolation and inattention that my extra weight provided. Hating myself went hand-in-hand with hating how I looked. Receiving confirmation of this from others who ignored me, looked at me in disgust or felt I lacked self-control just served to confirm my worst fears.
And changing these behaviors was more than just self-control, which is why most diets fail. In order to break the cycle of eating disorders, the person must begin to view themselves differently. They must begin to value themselves, see themselves as children of God â€“ wanted, loved and created by Him â€“ and that their bodies are a temple of God. This is not an easy process. Satanâ€™s lies can be firmly entrenched in the minds of those abused. The reason for this is sin. Once sin has impacted our lives, the far-reaching effects are devastating.
Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
- Dramatic weight loss.
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.
- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).
- Frequent comments about feeling â€œfatâ€ or overweight despite weight loss.
- Anxiety about gaining weight or being â€œfat.â€
- Denial of hunger.
- Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
- Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
- Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to â€œburn offâ€ calories taken in.
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
- In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation. The body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, so it is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy. This â€œslowing downâ€ can have serious medical consequences:
- Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
- Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
- Muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
- Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
- Dry hair and skin, hair loss is common.
- Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.
- Approximately 90-95% of anorexia nervosa sufferers are girls and women (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
- Between 0.5â€“1% of American women suffer from anorexia nervosa.
- Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in young women (Hsu, 1996).
- Between 5-20% of individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa will die. The probabilities of death increases within that range depending on the length of the condition (Zerbe, 1995).
- Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition.
- Anorexia nervosa typically appears in early to mid-adolescence.
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