Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

Anorexia nervosa is a serious form of disordered eating that can cause monumental disturbances in a person’s life. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the essential features of anorexia nervosa include persistent energy intake restriction, an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, engaging in behaviors that interfere with weight gain despite already possessing a low weight, and experiencing a disturbance in one’s perception of his or her own weight or body shape. The restriction of energy intake results in individuals experiencing a significantly low body weight in regards to their age, sex, development, and physical health. The intense fear of weight gain or becoming overweight results in an individual’s going to extreme measures in order to avoid gaining weight. The disturbances in one’s self-perception prohibit individuals from accurately perceiving the seriousness of their low body weight and prevent them from being able to recognize the damage that their behaviors are having on their health.

Often referred to as being the deadliest of all psychiatric conditions, there are two specific types of anorexia nervosa. The restricting type refers to those who accomplish excessive weight loss through the use of dieting, fasting, and/or spending extreme amounts of time exercising. The binge-eating/purging type refers to those who achieve extreme weight loss by engaging in recurrent episodes of purging or binge-eating behaviors, such as misusing laxative, diuretics, or enemas, or through self-induced vomiting.

Both types of anorexia are extremely dangerous and can be exceedingly damaging to an individual’s overall wellbeing. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can provide those struggling with anorexia with the intensive care needed to overcome this debilitating disease.

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An astounding 24 million people are estimated to suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa. While anorexia tends to be most common among young women, there are countless individuals of all ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds who battle this debilitating illness as well. Men are also not immune to this illness. It has been estimated that between 10% and 15% of individuals who are diagnosed with anorexia are male, however, some experts believe that these percentages may be lower because men are less likely to report the presence of eating disorder symptoms than females are. Nearly .05% the female population suffer from a form of disordered eating, and the average age of anorexia sufferers is said to be between 12 and 26.

Tragically, suicide risk is elevated in those who suffer from anorexia. According to the American Psychiatric Association, rates of suicide among people who are struggling with anorexia have been reported as being as high as 12 per 100,000 individuals each year.

Causes and Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa

The development of anorexia nervosa is not the result of any one singular cause, but rather it is believed to be the result of a combination of factors. Examples of these factors are described briefly in the following:

Genetics: The onset of anorexia is believed to have a genetic component, as research has shown that individuals who have relatives who suffer from certain mental health conditions are at increased risk for experiencing symptoms of anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives. More specifically, individuals who have first-degree relatives who suffer from eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and depressive disorders are said to eventually display signs of anorexia in greater prominence than do individuals who do not possess a similar family history.

Environmental: The environments in which individuals are immersed can have a tremendous impact on their susceptibility to developing anorexia. For example, when individuals grow up in environments or within cultures that emphasize the importance of being thin, they are more vulnerable to feelings of insecurity regarding their own weight. Seeing images of others who are thinner than they are can work on their psyche and make them feel inadequate and want to lose weight themselves. Additionally, there are certain occupations that place such a strong emphasis on physical appearance that those who work in them are more likely to suffer from disillusionment regarding their own appearance. The fashion industry and professional sports are two examples of such occupations. In addition, individuals who have a history of traumatic experiences, especially those who have suffered from physical or sexual abuse, are at a heightened risk for experiencing the onset of anorexia as they strive to find something over which they can have some semblance of control because they did not have control over the negative things they experienced or the residual negative emotions that remained after the experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Family history of eating disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of being abused, neglected, or experiencing another form of trauma
  • Being the victim of bullying
  • Growing up in an environment that places a strong emphasis on or highly values thinness

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

The signs and symptoms of anorexia are vast in type and amount. The symptoms themselves may vary amongst individuals, but all who are suffering from this disorder will experience symptoms that are distressing enough that they cause impairment in their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis. The following are example of the various types of signs that may be displayed by someone who is suffering from anorexia nervosa:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Consistently refusing to eat
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Denying that one is hungry
  • Engaging in rigid dieting routines or fasting rituals
  • Consuming diuretics or laxatives
  • Using enemas
  • Lying to others about one’s food intake
  • Wearing oversized clothing
  • Restricting the specific types of food that one consumes (e.g. only eating certain fruits or vegetables, etc.)
  • Rigidly limiting the portion sizes of the food that one consumes
  • Participating in certain ritualistic behaviors when preparing food (e.g. weighing food before eating it, cutting food into excessively small pieces, etc.)
  • Frequently weighing oneself
  • Spending a significant amount of time looking at oneself in the mirror
  • Visiting websites that promote anorexia as a way of life (e.g. visiting “Pro-Ana” or “Thinspiration” websites)
  • Binge-eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Abusing substances
  • Exercising excessively

Physical symptoms:

  • Emaciated appearance
  • For children and adolescents, not meeting the expected weight for one’s age
  • For children and adolescents, not achieving physical developmental milestones
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Thinning hair / hair loss
  • Brittle nails
  • Anemia
  • Decreased bone density / easily broken bones
  • Low hormone levels
  • Dry skin
  • Decreased or irregular heart rate
  • Development of fine hair on arms and legs
  • Broken blood vessels
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Swollen glands
  • Unable to tolerate coldness
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Flat affect
  • Weakened immune system

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Desire to have control over various situations
  • Strong desire to have control over one’s environment
  • Suffering from obsessions, compulsions, and preoccupations with weight, food, or body shape
  • Chronic suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Significant shifts in mood
  • Depressed feelings
  • Extreme feelings of anxiety
  • Drastically low self-esteem
  • Poor sense of self-worth
  • Feelings of intense fear regarding weight gain or becoming overweight
  • Heightened levels of agitation
  • Heightened levels of irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness and ineffectiveness
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Anorexia Nervosa

When treatment is not received, the effects of anorexia can be far-reaching and long-lasting. Not only will the individual battling the disease be affected, but those around him or her will be negatively impacted as well. Devastatingly, when left untreated, this illness may be fatal due to the severe medical complications that often result. Additionally, countless other effects have been known to plague those afflicted by this disease. Examples of physical health effects that are known to occur as the result of anorexia include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infertility
  • Weakened muscles/loss of muscle mass
  • Damage to the digestive system
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Heart attack/heart failure

In addition to the effects on one’s physical health, there are a number of effects that can impact other areas of an individual’s life as well. Examples of these various other effects can include the following:

  • Developing symptoms of a co-occurring mental health condition
  • Abusing and becoming addicted to substances
  • Failing to attend work or school, resulting in job loss or academic failure
  • Being unable to adhere to certain responsibilities and tasks of daily living
  • Familial discord
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Relationship disturbances
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who are battling anorexia frequently struggle with symptoms of additional mental health conditions simultaneously. Examples of the most common disorders cited as co-occurring alongside anorexia nervosa include the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders

Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

Due to the detrimental physical and mental health effects that can arise from the presence of anorexia nervosa, intensive therapeutic interventions are often warranted in order to help individuals overcome this tumultuous eating disorder. The all-consuming, yet debilitating, nature of anorexia often leaves sufferers feeling at a loss for what they can do to gain control over their symptoms; over their need to be thin. Due to the complex nature of this disease, residential treatment is often the most optimal option for care for assisting individuals in overcoming their symptoms and rediscovering a new, healthy life.

Residential treatment provides individuals with an opportunity to step away from the stressors and triggers of their everyday lives and instead place their sole focus on their recovery and on becoming well again. At Harmony Point Treatment Centers, we recognize the havoc that anorexia can reap on the lives of those suffering from it and have therefore created specialized treatment that is designed to meet the complex needs of those who are battling this form of disordered eating. Our programming options are catered to meet the individualized needs of each person who is entrusted into our care, and we are proud to offer all treatment in comfortable, safe, and home-like settings that are fully conducive to healing. By combining clinical excellence with a variety of diverse treatment options, each program offered through Harmony Point Treatment Centers emphasizes recovery by helping each person build the confidence he or she needs to successfully transition back to a healthy lifestyle, free from the destructive behaviors associated with anorexia.

Do not let anorexia continue to control your or your loved one’s life. Let the caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff at Harmony Point Treatment Centers show you or your loved one the way to a new beginning.

get confidential help now: 877.941.7611 Email Us