Anorexia: The Frightening Truth

Anorexia is an eating disorder in which people strive to lose an excessive amount of weight. What most don’t realize is that anorexia goes beyond a person’s physical appearance and takes control of the thoughts and feelings associated with the intake of food. This disorder consumes a person, driving them to starve until the point of death, unless stopped. There is no “too skinny” for someone who is anorexic, and in striving for perfection, one who suffers tries to take complete control. This entails excessive thoughts in regards to the effect that every bite of food or sip of drink may have on their body.  A lot of energy goes into planning what, how much and when one will eat, how to keep others from noticing the problem and how to fake recovery when help is still needed.

To an individual suffering from anorexia, the pain of feeling fat is worse than the pain of starvation, or even the pain of physical harm. Due to the stomach shrinkage that results from eating less, an individual can begin to feel physically sick by eating what others would consider a healthy amount. When someone is anorexic, the body stops functioning normally. Hair thins and falls out, organs become smaller, bones stop growing normally and in girls, menstruation stops and can even cause fertility issues later in life.                                   

Anorexia affects all people of various ages every day. Even after someone recognizes they have a problem and takes steps towards a healthier lifestyle, the worry, self-consciousness and stress stays with him or her.  This eating disorder is based on the mental component that compels someone to severe weight loss, not the weight loss itself. Any pound gained gives a sense of complete loss of control; with control being the main component of anorexia, this can be incredibly painful for the individual. Putting on one pound can feel just as bad as putting on twenty. The fact is, it takes years to fully recover from anorexia, and some people never even truly do.

Following is a college student’s first hand experience dealing with anorexia:

“To me, it was just a label for something that I thought had saved my emotional life. I went through three years of depression increasing in severity until my freshman year, when it took every ounce of strength in me to make it through every day. After freshman year, I decided to change my life. To me, this meant losing weight, even though I already had a low BMI. It started out innocently, switching out my usual after school snack of trail mix to just an apple. After that, I just began to cut out as many calories as I could. Eventually, I was consuming a mere 500 calories a day while still exercising. The weight came off very quickly; I liked it and I was happy. I was diagnosed with anorexia at the beginning of my junior year. After the diagnosis, I honestly just refused to acknowledge it. I continued to restrict my food intake while exercising as much as possible. Instead of eating more, I just began to count my calories more carefully and the weight continued to come off.

By the middle of junior year I had lost 30 pounds; my menstrual cycle had been gone for a year, and a study showed that I had lost bone density, which I would never be able to gain back. Even this did not prompt me to want to gain weight. My parents decided to try to use the Maudsley method to make me gain weight. This is when the parents take over and control the entire meal plan of the child. It is geared towards early teens and as I was nearly eighteen years old, it did not go over well with me.

    I developed ways of hiding the food- spitting it into a napkin when no one was looking or throwing food out at school- I gained back some of the weight but I was in no way recovered. As soon as my parents backed off, I went back to restricting and by October of my senior year I was at an even lower weight than I had been before. This was also in the middle of college applications and because of that the stress level was immense. I fought with my parents constantly and spent the rest of my time working and studying. My parents created an ultimatum saying that if I did not reach a certain goal weight by January, I would be put in a treatment center. I did not reach that goal weight.

We visited two treatment centers and I can honestly say it was the most frightening day of my life. I knew at that point what would trigger me, and I knew that living in a house with a group of girls, all also trying to lose weight, and being told not too, would be incredibly triggering. After that visit, the consequences of not getting better began to hit home. Above all, I wanted to get away to college where I felt I could start a new life.

I began to slowly add in more food and slowly gained muscle. My period came back; I was able to stand up without fainting. I was motivated by the idea of going away to college and that is the main way the anorexic so-called “switch” was turned off. In addition, I had begun taking Prozac in November of my senior year and it began to kick in in January. Prozac works by blocking the serotonin reuptake inhibitor in the brain, which enables the brain to be able to maintain a normal level of seratonin, which is a hormone that is necessary for mood regulation. By May of my senior year I felt recovered. I was happy, confident, and healthy. My parents did not agree. I was still under their watch and I was told multiple times that it was likely I would not make it in college. The hardest thing was the way it destroyed my relationship with my family. Many bridges were burned and it took time and effort to rebuild them. All of the negativity made it very hard to maintain healthy eating patterns. Nevertheless, I made it to college and thought that would be the end. I was in recovery and that would be it. However, within the first three weeks of college I had lost roughly 5-10 pounds.

This weight loss was unintentional of course, but the feeling it gave me was worrying. I did my best to fix my eating patterns and for a while everything was fine. But over the next year and a half, my eating patterns become worse and worse, and I would either eat nothing or eat food that I knew would make me feel sick. At this point, I am very educated in eating disorders and that works to my advantage. I know that I will at some point be back in recovery without worrying about food and body image, but it is still a work in progress.”

 

 

* If you or a loved one is in need of help, consider the following resources:

William and Mary Counseling Center -http://www.wm.edu/offices/counselingcenter/

William and Mary- Physical Wellness-Eating Disorders - http://www.wm.edu/sites/mhwc/physical/eatingdisorders/index.php

William and Mary CARES Team - http://wmpeople.wm.edu/site/page/cares/home

 

[Photo credit: The photo shown above is a screenshot of the video "The Mirror-Anorexia" featured on YouTube]