Eating disorders take countless forms, but I’m going to spotlight two: anorexia and bulimia.
So, what is anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders. It is characterized by the restriction of food and calories, often coupled with an irrational fear of weight gain and distorted self-image. Having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness due to starvation and suicide.
Eating habits are usually ritualistic or obsessive. For example, an individual may only eat at certain times or only eat “safe” foods. Sufferers typically undergo significant weight loss in a short period of time (failing to maintain 15% of their Ideal Body Weight), as well as experience other harmful behaviors such as excessive exercise, smoking, caffeine or alcohol consumption, and abusing diet pills.
Here are some common attributes of anorexia, but they are by no means all-inclusive. Each individual may exhibit all or only a few of these symptoms:
-rapid and significant weight loss
-brittle nails and hair loss
-dry or yellow skin
-growth of downy hair over skin (called lanugo)
-sensitivity to cold
-feeling lethargic and unable to focus
-amenorrhea (females only)
-electrolyte imbalances, including low potassium and sodium
-high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and low levels of serotonian and norepinephrine (well-being and happiness hormones)
-loss of balance
-sleeping difficulties/ insomnia
-slowed heart rate and blood pressure
-heart failure (which can lead to death)
-preoccupation with food and/or weight
-ritualistic and restrictive eating habits
-excessive, compulsive exercise
-feelings of perfection and inadequacy
-fear of maintaining or gaining weight
-may also be coupled with binging and purging
-can be associated with other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse
Who can get it?:
ANYONE can develop anorexia. However, behaviors typically begin during adolescence or young adulthood, and affects mainly young women. Nearly 1% of all females develop anorexia during their lifetime. Particular groups at risk include models, athletes, and dancers whose careers rely upon certain body images.
As college is a time of transition and stress, this community is also a significant population for anorexia. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91% of college women used dieting to control their weight, with 25% using binging and purging. In fact, 95% of individuals with eating disorders are between ages 12 to 25.
Studies currently state that anorexia is caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Improperly functioning chemicals in the brain can contribute to the behaviors. People related to someone with anorexia are 10 times more likely to develop the disorder. Illness, stress, and social values and pressures also play a part in the disease.
Recovery begins with the immediate introduction of more calories into a person’s diet. This weight restoration can be inpatient or outpatient, depending upon the severity of the malnutrition. Therapy helps treat the emotional aspects as well.
Nevertheless, 1 in 5 people with anorexia will die prematurely, often resulting from complications such as suicide, heart failure, organ failure, or starvation.
Remember: Regardless of the eating disorder, it is NEVER an individual’s fault. If you or someone you know has anorexia, please call the National Eating Disorders Association’s hotline at 1-800-931-2237