Anorexia

Anorexia is primarily a serious mental health condition. People with anorexia have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they are fat when they are underweight. They then try to reduce weight further by not eating enough food and by exercising too much. This leads to serious physical illness through starvation.

It is not easy for someone with anorexia to suddenly start eating more. Once a little weight is gained the brain or mental health condition thinks ‘too fat’ and puts effort into resisting food and taking more exercise. This is why anorexia is more of a mental health issue than a simple diet or weight issue.

Although anorexia is often associated with teenage girls, it affects both men and women. It often starts in mid-teens but the symptoms can carry on throughout adult life.

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Symptoms of Anorexia

Impact of anorexia on physical health

Although anorexia is mostly a mental health issue, the long-term impact on the physical body is extreme and very damaging. Your body is starved and you develop problems with your heart  – heart failure and swelling of hands and feet, low blood pressure, problems with the brain – fits and memory loss, problems with muscles and bones  – weakness and stunted physical development, bowel and bladder problems – needing the toilet very often and fertility issues. Untreated anorexia can cause hospitalisation or death.

Getting help and treatment

It is common for someone with anorexia to avoid seeking help as they will deny there is any issue at all with their weight. They are deliberately starving themselves whilst their brain is thinking they are fat.

If someone with anorexia wants help and wants to get better then this is most of the battle won. The biggest difficulty is for them to understand there is a problem to start with.

Treatment focuses on talking therapies such as counselling and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and developing a healthy lifestyle and a better image of yourself. Once you have a better image of yourself your brain will stop trying to stop you from eating. The aim of the therapy is to help you to develop good ways of coping with the negative thoughts and feelings that are associated with your anorexia. It seeks to empower you to dismiss these thoughts and turn them into something more positive.

Many people recover from anorexia or develop better lifestyles and a more healthy weight. However, there is always a risk of relapse and it can be helpful to have someone – a friend or a trusted 3rd party to talk to if the negative thoughts reappear and you cannot control them. This is especially true at stressful times in life – maybe a new job or relationship or change in family circumstance.