What is anorexia?
Let’s face it. You don’t want to be fat. It’s normal to feel this way.
It’s when this mindset is taken to extreme that problems arise.
Once your fear of becoming overweight is placed above your own personal safety, you may have a problem…
Especially if you are excessively limiting the amount of food you eat, in an effort to avoid gaining weight.
Sound like you? You may have anorexia nervosa, generally shortened to just ‘anorexia’ – a severe eating disorder.
To put it simply, anorexia is an obsessive fear of gaining weight.
To be fair, we are all guilty of this at times. Nobody wants to be fat. But the difference is that if you are anorexic, this fear is irrational.
You see, an anorexic will see a fat person in the mirror, even if they are impossibly skinny.
To an anorexic, the solution is simple:
You restrict the amount of food you eat.
Note: This is not the same dieting. Anorexia is eating as little as possible, just enough for your body to function.
For example, this was the daily meal plan of one of my former clients who has since recovered from anorexia:
Breakfast – 1 cup of coffee.
Lunch – 1 diet soda and two rice cakes
Dinner – 1 cup of soup
She always felt hungry, but her solution was to drink as much water as she could, so her stomach hurt and she wouldn’t want to eat.
She set herself an impossibly low goal of 1200 kJ per day (Average daily kJ intake is 8700) – if she ate more than this she would get depressed and refuse to eat the next day.
Despite being 15 kilograms underweight, she was still unhappy with her weight and determined to lose more.
This isn’t dieting, this is starving your body of essential nutrients.
Anorexics frequently examine their body for the slightest indication of weight gain.
They do this by:
- Constantly checking their weight on scales
- Measuring their waist and stomach
- Regularly checking their reflection in the mirror or glass windows
And if those measurements are higher than the day before? Anorexics will go into a shame-spiral and further deprive their body of food to make up for the guilt of gaining weight.
Do you think you have anorexia? You are not alone.
Approximately 2% of Australian women will suffer from Anorexia at some point in their life
The combination of irrational thinking and starvation that makes anorexia such a dangerous eating disorder. If left untreated, anorexia can lead to death.
If you believe you or a loved one are suffering from Anorexia, you should seek professional help as soon as possible – your future self will thank you.
Ordinarily, there is no harm in being skinny.
But there is a big difference from being slim and anorexic.
You see, when anorexics regularly skip meals, or fail to maintain a nourishing diet, problems arise.
Your body is a car. It needs fuel to work. In this case, pasta and salad is the fuel.
Without fuel, a car will stall before finally coming to a stop. Without food, your body will do the exact same.
In fact, if untreated, 5 – 10% of people with anorexia will die from this disorder within 10 years.
As you can see, anorexia is more dangerous than you think.
Even if anorexia doesn’t kill you, you are in for a bumpy ride.
You see, when you restrict food you are starving your body of nutrients – nutrients your body uses to maintain itself.
This is why anorexia is so dangerous. It can feel like your body is chugging along as normal. But behind the scenes, serious problems are starting to form.
You won’t realise until it’s too late.
Some of these issues include:
Psychical Health Issues
- Balding – Your body uses the energy and nutrients it would to grow head hair on more important functions, like keeping you alive
- More body hair – Because you have no fat to insulate your body in cold weather, your body grows a fine hair to help keep your body warm.
- Dry skin and brittle nails – a nutrient deficiency from lack of food intake means you don’t have the essential minerals to keep your skin and nails healthy
- Osteoporosis – Nutritional and hormonal problems caused by anorexia negatively impacts bone density, increasing risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Heart Problems – Anorexia causes low blood pressure and heart degradation, increasing risk of heart failure.
- Low blood pressure – Inadequate food and fluid intake can lead to low blood pressure causing dizziness and lightheadedness.
- Digestive issues – Your digestive system is like a conveyor belt. If food stops going in, the system becomes sluggish leading to bloating, reflux and constipation when you resume eating.
- Abnormal menstruation – Anorexia can lead to a hormonal imbalance, causing irregular periods.
- Weakness and Fatigue – Your body uses food to create energy. If you are not eating enough, your body becomes tired and lethargic.
Mental Health Issues
- Reduced concentration – It’s hard to concentrate when you continuously feel tired and can’t stop thinking about food.
- Changes to your personality – Stress placed upon your body due to lack of nutrients, increases chances of anxiety, depression and emotional outbursts.
- Social isolation – You withdraw from your friends and family for fear of being judged and constantly having to justify your lifestyle.
- Giving up hobbies and interests – due to a lack of energy and thoughtspace taken up with body image, you lose enthusiasm for your usual hobbies and interests.
- Avoiding food – You avoid situations where you are exposed to food such as work functions or even walking through a food court.
Here is where it gets weird:
Anorexia is an obsessive focus on achieving perfect body image. Yet many of the health issues caused by anorexia negatively impact how you look…
You are trading weight for a bald head and poor teeth – the first thing someone sees when they notice you.
But even knowing the worst possible symptoms isn’t enough to cure you of anorexia – you can’t beat this mindset.
That’s why anorexia is classified as a mental health disorder. You cannot overcome this on your own. No matter how hard you try.
Anorexia is a serious condition that needs professional help.
Intense fear of gaining weight
Even though you are healthy or even underweight, you have an irrational fear of becoming fat. Some of my clients have described this fear as being so great, they would prefer to die than gain weight.
Deliberately eating small portions
Do you consider a coffee or a bottle of coke a meal? Skipping meals and attempting to survive off impossibly small meal portions is common in people suffering from anorexia. Restricting the size of the meals you eat is common in anorexics.
Obsession with calculating potential weight gain.
You can tell me exactly how many calories were in the last meal you ate, and it’s a shockingly low amount. You may also frequently check your body in the mirror, measure your stomach or weigh yourself multiple times a day.
You need to get “unnecessary” food out of you.
So, you had a slightly larger meal than usual. Or maybe you slipped up and ate a whole packet of biscuits. Your solution is to get the calories out of your body at any cost. It may be sticking your finger down your throat to vomit the food out, it may be taking laxatives. Heck, you might even punish yourself by spending jogging around the neighbourhood for the rest of the afternoon. This is referred to as “purging anorexia” a combination of anorexia and bulimia.
Unhappy with a healthy bodyweight
Are you overweight? No? When you look in the mirror, do you see a fat person staring back at you? Anorexics often see their body as being larger or fatter than it is.
Unfortunately, since you can’t see this for yourself, you’ll need to rely on what other people tell you. If you have other people telling you that you are nice as slim, or even too thin, and you see yourself as fat, you may have a problem.
While it is certainly possible to be overweight or even normal sized and anorexic, it’s less common – this is referred to as atypical anorexia and is classified under the OSFED diagnosis.
Fatigue Do you feel exhausted all the time? Do you find yourself reaching for sugary drinks and foods for an energy boost? Because you are depriving your body of the nutrients it needs, anorexics often feel tired – even after a good night of sleep!
This big word is used to describe when you have missed three or more consecutive periods. On its own, missing three periods doesn’t necessarily mean you have anorexia – you might be pregnant. But when combined with other symptoms, amenorrhoea may be an indicator of anorexia.
You are underweight
Close your eyes and picture someone with anorexia.
You probably thought about someone with super skinny arms and ribs that look like they are poking through the skin, right?
It may be a stereotype. But if it isn’t caught early, anorexia can cause you to look exactly like this.
You see, anorexics have less muscle and fat.
This is why you can see their bones so clearly – there is less fat and muscle padding them.
And, of course, with less muscle and less fat, weighing them down, anorexics are often classified as “underweight.”
Fortunately, there is a simple test you can take to determine if you have an eating disorder, and which one. All you have to do is take a test…
The Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q). This test accompanies a medical examination (called the EDE) that will be administered by your doctor, who will diagnose your eating disorder and prescribe treatment.
You can also take this test yourself online for free, however it will only reveal if you potentially have an eating disorder. It won’t provide a diagnosis or further details – you need to see your Doctor for that.
If your Doctor determines that you do have an eating disorder, you may be eligible for medicare funded treatment under one of two different plans:
1. Eating Disorder Management Plan (EDMP) – allows eligible clients with an eating disorder to access medicare rebates for up to 40 sessions of Psychological under an eating disorder psychological treatment plan (EDPT.)
2. Medical Health Care Plan (MHP) – provides up to 20 individual and 20 group sessions of Psychology therapy per year.
Please discuss these options with your doctor. Happy Body Clinic is able to provide treatment under both of these plans with a referral from your doctor.