Eating disorder – Anorexia nervosa
Yes, I had an eating disorder. There are many things that happen to each of us through life. This eating disorder was one thing that happened to me. I have successfully overcome it and can talk openly about it. I want to help others to understand anorexia and to get an idea how to help the person that is dealing with the eating disorder.
If you have any questions throughout this blog posts. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment and I will get back to you about it. It is a serious topic.
Before I m getting to much into details about how it affected me personally and what I did to overcome it, I want to share with you the necessary info of what anorexia Nervosa is, the signs and symptoms and how to get help.
What is Anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that results in unhealthy and often dangerous weight loss. The weight loss is a result of a refusal to eat the required amount of food to maintain a healthy body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body images.
It can affect women and men of all ages, but is more common in teenage females.
I had anorexia when I was a teenager roughly about the 16-17 years. I had a starting weight of 72kg with a height of 178cm. Looking back now, I didn’t look big or was unhealthy heavy. I actually like the look of me on the photos from that time before it all began. Within a year I lost heaps of weight and got down to 47.5kg. That was the lowest weight I got to one morning on the scale. A dangerous low weight for 178cm!!
Trisha with almost 16 years old
What are possible causes or reasons?
There are many reasons why someone could become anorexic. It can also be a combination of social, emotional and biological factors.
Reasons could be:
- current culture of thin is in
- Body dissatisfaction
- Emotional difficulties
- Troubled family relationships
- Traumatic experiences
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Low self-esteem
It started with simple dieting for me. I wanted to lose weight. I always had a bigger belly and got picked in this when I was a kid. I tried many times to lose weight as a kid, but it never really worked before. As a teenager, I finally managed to lose some weight. I made healthier choices and cut out the unnecessary sweet stuff at first. I remember the talk to my mum about “we need to eat whole grain bread instead of white bread” discussion. I was on the right track at first. However, as a teenager there were lots of other things not going well in my life and the weight loss journey started to become something that I was in control of while everything else around me was out of control. The daily jumping on the scale became a habit and I had a short happiness feeling when it showed less than the day before. The reasons changed and I ended up with Anorexia Nervosa.
What are the types of anorexia?
There are two types of anorexia:
- Restricting type: weight loss is accomplished primarily through dieting, fasting and/or excessive exercise
- Binge-eating/purging type: the individual engages in restriction and recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging behaviour; some individuals do not binge eat but regularly purge after consuming small amounts of food
I was mostly the restricting type. I portioned everything or counted it up. I restricted myself to certain “good” foods or the occasional one “ bad” food choice. I m honest, I tried to throw up after consuming a meal, but I just couldn’t work that out. That’s wasn’t something for me. I found that gross, so I restricted myself. Which makes sense with the reason of wanting to be in control.
What are some Signs and symptoms?
Food behaviour symptoms:
- dieting despite being slim
- Categorise food into “good” and “bad”
- Obsession with calories, fat and nutrition
- Pretending to eat and lying about it
- Preoccupation with food
- Strange or secretive food rituals
Appearance and body image symptoms:
- feeling fat, although being underweight
- Dangerous weight loss
- Fixation on body image
- Denial about body image
- Very critical of own body appearance
- throwing up after eating
- Use of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics
- Compulsive exercising
It’s hard to spot these eating habits at first, because the person is trying to hide them from others. With the dramatic weight loss and other physical affects on the body it will come clear to others.
Yes, this are just some of the symptoms you can see in someone with anorexia Nervosa. I had an obsession with cooking shows. Watched daily how they prepare meals but didn’t eat. I remember my stepdad shakes his head saying to me “ how can you watch all this food and not eat”. Watching this shows was like eating to me. I imagined the taste and it made me think I ate.
I preferred to eat in private. I didn’t like others watching me eat. This way I could eat what and the way I wanted it. I came up with some rituals and weird ways of eating something normal. For example, a special way of eating a banana. I ate potatoes or pasta with Nutella when I was craving some chocolate. Preferred carrots with some chilli sauce.
I didn’t eat full meals anymore. The healthy good meals turned into small healthy meals and then turned into just tasting of food. I basically just tasted different food things over the day.
Unless I got invited for dinner or lunch. I needed this notice a few days in advance or I would have cancelled. This way I starved myself or restricted myself more before the lunch or dinner, where I actually ate a proper meal. It was slowly eating, because I was challenging myself and the fear of gaining weight. However, knowing I already lost more before eating it, allowed me to eat a whole meal. I remember my Oma following me to the toilet after dinner in the restaurant. She told me later she wanted to check if I m throwing it up. She was surprised that I ate so much.
Also drinking heaps of fluids. At least 3 litre I drunk each day in water or tea.
Unfortunately, when the body doesn’t get the fuel it needs to function properly, the body will go into starvation mode and slows down. Medical complications are the result.
Trisha with 17.5 years old – at the lowest weight of 47.5kg
What are some Physical complications of Anorexia Nervosa?
- Rapid or sudden weight loss
- Loss or irregularity of menstrual periods (in females)
- Dizziness, fainting and/or fatigue
- Sensitivity to the cold (extremities)
- Signs of frequent vomiting (teeth damage, swollen cheeks/parotid glands, calluses on knuckles, sore throat)
- Lanugo – face / back
- Dry/brittle hair, skin, nails
- Gastrointestinal disturbances (constipation, cramps, indigestion, pain, bloating)
- Reduced cognitive capacity (concentration, memory)
- Oedema (retention of body fluid; “puffy” appearance)
- Reduced metabolic rate
- Changes in heart rate (slowed)
- Changes in blood pressure (lowered)
- Changes in body temperature (reduced)
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) – confusion, illogical thinking, shakiness, irritability
- Bruise easily
- Increased changes in mood, irritability
- Anxiety or depression
- anxiety around meal times
- sensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape/weight/appearance/eating/exercise habits
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviours
- Changes in clothing style
- Impaired school or work performance
- Social withdrawal / Avoidance of social situations involving food
Yes, I also experienced complications. I had a very low weight and restricted my nutritional intake, so my body had to react.
With the continuous weight loss, I was constantly freezing. I was pale and most of the time had a blue top lip. I was wearing jumpers, gloves and hoodies when others where sitting next to me in a T-shirt. I drunk hot tea all day and stayed close by to the heater or fire place.
Because I was freezing and hungry, that was basically all I could think of most of the day. I was in the final year of school, my concentration and memory started to decrease. My grades weren’t as good anymore as before.
I was tired, but could t sleep at night because I was hungry. Some nights I got up and ate something to just keep my body satisfied so I could sleep. Night eating, my mum wasn’t a fan of this but in the end she was happy that I ate at all.
I lost friends along the way as well. I have up my relationship to that time. I couldn’t deal with anyone being too close to me. Social isolation!
May some stage, I agreed to finally see a doctor and do a blood test as a check up. My iron was very low and I got iron tablets, which made me constipated. My GP told me if this continues I might end up with anaemia.
What is the difference of healthy dieting and anorexia?
Anorexia is an attempt to control your life and emotions. Your self-esteem is based entirely on how much you weigh and how thin you are. Weight loss is a way to achieve happiness. Becoming thin is all that matters and health is not a concern.
Healthy dieting is an attempt to control weight. Your self esteem is based on more than just weight loss and body image. Weight loss is a way to improve health and appearance. Goal is to lose weight in a healthy way.
I can finally say I m in a good place where I combine healthy eating and physical activity. I have turned away from the scale. I realised it’s important to be healthy and not thin and light weighted. I want to be strong and healthy for myself and for my children.
How can you help?
First of all, you need to understand that anorexia nervosa is mostly not just about weight and food, in fact it’s a symptom of a deeper issue such as mentioned above: anxiety, depression, insecurity, feeling the need to be in control, etc.
The person with anorexia needs to admit having a problem and that he or she needs help. Because they have tried to keep it a secret it will be hard for them to talk about it. However, talking to your loved ones about it will help to identify the deeper issue and help in recovery.
Then, obviously it’s important to address all medical complications and get medical treatment. Depending on the severity of the weight loss, hospitalisation might be something to start with. Otherwise definitely a doctor check up is necessary.
Furthermore, it would be beneficial to get professional help. Getting the advice of someone specialised in helping people with eating disorders to get back to a healthy lifestyle would be good.
I did not listen to my family or friends when they addressed my eating disorder. I didn’t admit to have an issue till I was close to my lowest weight. Once the complications started, I knew it wasn’t healthy and that I have an issue but I couldn’t speak it out loud, acknowledge it to others yet alone fight it.
I had one visit with a psychologist. In that one session it got clear that it wasn’t weight loss, but other factors in my environment that pushed me to act out this way. After that, I had a breaking point looking in the mirror. Seeing me for the first time as I was: skinny and bony. Realising I had almost destroyed my body and life, was very overwhelming. I cried heaps in that moment.
However, I needed that breaking point to then admit that I had an eating disorder and to then find a way to get back on track. I decided for myself, I need to get better! And I did it!
I didn’t “heal” straight away and was back to normal eating. Slowly but steady I increased portions and included a variety of foods again. I wanted to function properly again to finish school with good grades and find a job to start a new life by myself! I was looking forward to that! I was fighting for this! Looking back, I m glad that it all went reasonably well without any further complications.
Trisha with 18.5 years old
How is the recovery process?
- Get the immediate help necessary
- Understand anorexia and identify the cause and triggers
- Find healthy ways to cope with your emotions or triggers
- Gain a healthy self-esteem
- Accept the help and support offered
- Socialise again and pick up activities that you enjoy
- Love and enjoy food and life again
What’s the take away message?
Anorexia should be taken serious! We should talk more openly about the disease and that’s it’s more than just a dangerous weight loss journey.
Help is out there! If you are affected or someone you know. Change your life around. It’s never too late, you are never too deep into it. You can get better when you want to! Do not destroy yourself. I know it is hard to change that behaviour and it does need some time, but believe me it is possible! I did it and so can you!
If you want to reach out to me, I m here to help you!
Please do not turn your back on the one that’s going though this. Yes, he or she might not listen and it’s hard to watch them going through it. Be there for them. They will know at some stage and then they can use all the support the can get to help them get back on track. Help them to find the trigger/cause of it. Identifying this might help to turn it all around.
Start living you life again! We only have one and we should enjoy and live it to it’s best!