EATING DISORDER AWARENESS: ANOREXIA NERVOSA
This week, LDC is helping to raise awareness of eating disorders, as part of Nutrition and Hydration Awareness Week. Today, we focus on Anorexia. If you are at all worried about anything you read, book in to see your GP or private GP for lots more information about the topic.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition, and more specifically an eating disorder. It is characterised by extreme disturbances in behaviour around eating.
People who suffer from this condition deliberately refuse to eat enough food to maintain a healthy body weight. As a result of this disordered way of thinking and behaving, both the body and the mind become starved of the nutrients that are needed for healthy, balanced functioning.
Sufferers experience an extremely intense desire to lose weight and be thin, and even though they may already be very underweight, they persistently see themselves as "fat".
And in spite of public misconception, people who suffer from anorexia nervosa do not actually hate food; in fact, they often retain an intense interest in and fascination with food.
Who Is At Risk of an Eating Disorder?
Anorexia can affect both males and females of any age, although it often begins in the late teenage years. It is most common amongst girls and young women, with about 90% of sufferers being female.
What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
Those who know the sufferer might wonder why it is so difficult for the affected person to just enjoy eating food, or to maintain a healthy weight, but anorexia is a complicated illness which is multi-factorial in its origin (this means that many different factors combine to make a person more vulnerable to anorexia).
Usually, anorexia is not primarily about food, or weight issues. It may manifest following a stressful or traumatic event or series of events in a person’s life, and is often thought to be a mean's of exerting control of one's life, or a way of feeling a sense of achievement in a world which can sometimes feel insecure, competitive and cruel.
Anorexia may manifest following a stressful or traumatic event
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is characterised by:
- Extreme concerns about weight
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
- Deliberate maintenance of a very low body weight
- Markedly suppressed appetite
- Often absent menstrual cycles
We have outlined the main criteria for anorexia nervosa above, but if you are worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, look out for the following signs of a eating disorder:
- Calorie counting and/or obsessively avoiding high fat food
- Marked weight loss
- Using "fad" diets
- Obsessive weighing
- Getting cold easily
- Feeling or talking about being fat even when very thin
- Dry, breakable nails and hair
- Preference to eating alone or only eating around other people
People who suffer from anorexia often do not seek help, and many hide their distress for a long time. Some reasons for this are:
- They will often have trouble recognising that they have a problem
- They may fear the stigma that accompanies admitting to having a mental health problem
- They may worry that they will lose control over their choices around food and eating
Anorexia is characterised by extreme concerns about weight
If you believe you may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. You can take the first step by confiding in someone you trust who can offer you help and support, and ask this person if they will accompany you when you go to see your GP.
Your GP will act as a source of support and advice, check your weight, possibly check your pulse, blood pressure and do a blood test. Depending on these results, your GP might decide to refer you to a specialist for a more detailed assessment.
If you think someone you know might have an eating disorder, they will need lots of support and encouragement from those close to them to seek help. Safe, non-abusive relationships are crucial in the life of a person suffering from any mental health disorder, and if they have confided in you, it means that they trust you, and you are very important.
Treatment of Anorexia
Before starting your treatment, you will probably have a full assessment of your overall health. A test called an ECG may be performed to check the health of your heart.
Eating Disorder Treatment - Multi-Disciplinary Team
Your on-going treatment and care will probably include your GP and members of a bigger team, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or specialist nurse. All members of the team involved in taking care of you will be specially trained in understanding your condition, and you will not be judged.
Treatment will usually include counselling or psychotherapy (both forms of talking therapy), advice on eating and proper nutrition, and regular weight and health checks. You will be shown (and supported) to begin eating enough to start gaining weight again.
If you vomit regularly, you may see a dentist to check the health of your teeth. If you use laxatives to help you lose weight, you will be assisted to stop doing this.
Sometimes, a medication called a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which is often used in the treatment of depression and anxiety, may be prescribed in addition to the treatment outlined above, but this will be discussed with you in advance, and you will be involved in making decisions every step of the way.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, a consultation with one a GP may be the much needed first step in the path to recovery. Here at London Doctors Clinic, we have eight private clinics across central London, so should never be too far away when you're looking to find a GP or doctors surgery. And if you need any more information on Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017, check out the page.
By Melissa Dillon