Recovering From Anorexia Nervosa

Across the U.S., millions of people are affected by some form of eating disorder. Perhaps the most widely known of these illnesses is anorexia nervosa, or anorexia. People with this disorder develop eating-related behaviors that lead to extremely low body weight. In a worst-case scenario, these behaviors can have fatal consequences.

Like any other eating disorder, anorexia can be difficult to treat. However, with specialized support and care, recovery is a realistic possibility. Effective anorexia treatment plans are highly individualized. As a rule, they also rely on the expertise of multiple kinds of healthcare professionals. This coordinated approach helps ensure that you get the care you need to restore a healthy pattern of eating.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa experience serious distortions in their self-perception. These distortions typically make them feel overweight, regardless of how much they actually weigh. As a result, affected people do things such as:

  • Avoid eating
  • Place severe restrictions on what they will eat
  • Eat just a few kinds of foods in highly limited amounts

These are all classic signs of a subtype of the disorder called restrictive anorexia. However, you may also develop something called binge-purge anorexia. People affected by this second version of the disorder generally restrict their eating. But periodically, they will eat extreme amounts of food in a limited span of time. They will then follow up these binging episodes by taking steps to purge the calories they have consumed. Common examples of purging behaviors include:

  • Purposeful vomiting
  • Laxative use
  • Diuretic use

You can die from the health effects of anorexia. These effects can include everything from serious heart malfunctions to clinical starvation. In addition, significant numbers of affected people commit suicide.

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Bulimia Vs. Anorexia

Bulimia nervosa is another well-known eating disorder. People with bulimia experience repeated episodes of food binging and purging. So what is the difference between this disorder and binge-purge anorexia? People with binge-purge anorexia are still seriously underweight. In contrast, people with bulimia may be:

  • Somewhat underweight
  • Average in weight for their height and age
  • Overweight

What Causes Anorexia

No one knows exactly why anorexia occurs. For any given person, multiple factors may be involved. Examples of these factors include:

  • Inherited genetic risks
  • Hormonal changes
  • Social or cultural influences regarding weight and attractiveness
  • A childhood history of an anxiety disorder
  • Eating difficulties while very young
  • A poor self-image or sense of self
  • Having a rules-focused worldview
  • holding perfection as a personal ideal

Who Is Affected By Anorexia

Anyone can develop anorexia. However, most people first experience symptoms as young adults, teenagers or preteens. In each of these age groups, females are affected substantially more often than males.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia

There are a range of potential signs and symptoms of anorexia. The list of these indicators includes things such as:

  • An extremely low body weight
  • Denial of any concerns about this low weight
  • Heavy restriction of food intake
  • Extreme fear of putting on weight
  • A distorted sense of body shape and/or weight
  • Yellowed, dry skin
  • Chronic, serious constipation
  • Muscle weakness or shrinkage
  • Loss of fertility in women
  • Unexplained fatigue or lethargy

You may also develop a condition called lanugo. People with this condition grow fine hairs on their limbs, torso and other body areas.

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How Is Anorexia Diagnosed

Doctors use several methods to officially diagnose anorexia. For example, a physical exam will help reveal any telltale changes in your normal body function. Blood tests also help uncover these kinds of changes. Additional forms of physical testing may include:

  • X-rays that assess the health of your bones
  • Electrocardiograms or other heart-related tests
  • Pneumonia testing

A psychological  assessment or evaluation is also standard. An assessment provides a general overview of your typical thoughts and feelings. It also provides information on your typical eating patterns. A  detailed evaluation allows your doctor to gain a fuller picture regarding these issues.

Doctors also look for specific anorexia symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Significant weight loss caused by restricting your calorie/energy intake
  • Extreme fear of putting on weight, or
    • Ongoing behavior that makes it hard for you to gain weight
  • A distorted perception of your weight or body shape, or
    • Basing your sense of self on your weight or shape
    • A failure to recognize the impact of your low body weight

You have restrictive anorexia if you have not binged or purged for the last three months. If you have binged and purged during this timeframe, you have binge-purge anorexia.

Anorexia Treatment: Eating Disorder Treatment Types

Like all other eating disorders, anorexia is a complex illness. To recover from its effects, you typically need multiple forms of treatment. Options that may play a role in your anorexia treatment include:

  • Temporary hospitalization
  • Medical treatment or supportive care
  • Some form of psychotherapy
  • Nutritional counseling or therapy

You may need to be hospitalized to address an anorexia-related emergency. This kind of emergency may involve immediate threats to your physical well-being. It may also involve suicidal thinking or other immediate psychological threats.

Whether you are hospitalized or not, supportive care is common. Common forms of support include:

  • Tracking your vital signs
  • Making sure you are well-hydrated
  • Using electrolytes to correct any serious imbalances

Some people require medical care in the form of a feeding tube.

Certain kinds of psychotherapy have provided benefits for people recovering from anorexia. Teenagers often improve with the help of family-based therapy. Adults may benefit from CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Restoring a Healthy Diet in People With Anorexia

Anorexia treatment focuses largely on helping you return to a healthy body weight. As a rule, this is not a simple process. Instead, it requires input from several kinds of medical experts. Your primary doctor often plays a supervisory role. A therapist or psychologist will help you make the necessary changes in your eating behaviors. A nutritional therapist or counselor will help you plan the specific details of your new eating plan.

Your loved ones will probably also have an important part to play. They can provide vital support in helping you reach your weight-gain goals. In addition, they can help create living conditions that make it easier for you to recover. Lifestyle and therapeutic approaches to anorexia work together to increase your overall recovery odds.

Challenges to Anorexia Treatment

Challenges are the norm for anyone receiving anorexia treatment. Often, affected people do not believe they need help. Instead, they view their eating behaviors as valid and right for them. Even if you know help is needed, you may have difficulty reaching out. Why? Some people with anorexia fear gaining weight more than they fear the impact of their illness.

Residential Treatment and Anorexia

You may need residential treatment for anorexia. Reasons for taking this approach may include:

  • Weighing less than 85% of normal for your height and age
  • Needing supervision to maintain a healthy eating pattern
  • Having a home life that do not support an effective recovery
  • Lacking enough motivation to recover as an outpatient
  • Requiring help to avoid purging behaviors
  • Having additional mental health issues

Ask your doctor if residential treatment works best for your situation.

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Anorexia Support Resources

When treatment ends, proper support for your ongoing recovery is crucial. Where can you get this support? Professional help is often available. This help usually takes the form of an aftercare program. You can also seek help from a reputable group or organization. A number of nationwide groups provide detailed support information. Examples include:

  • The National Eating Disorders Association
  • The National Alliance on Mental Health
  • The National Institute of Mental Health

Available resources include everything from education to anorexia support groups.

Is Long-Term Anorexia Recovery Possible

Can you make a lasting recovery from anorexia? In short, yes. This is true even if you have severe symptoms. Research shows that about one in every five people will recover fully. The vast majority of these people continue to remain symptom-free for at least two years.

Three-quarters of all affected people will make a partial recovery. If you fall into this category, you will still have some anorexia symptoms. However, your overall condition may be much improved. Be aware that no one treatment works for everyone. And unfortunately, not everyone with anorexia will recover. Still, with effective treatment, recovery is a genuine possibility.

Many people who make long-term recoveries have been hospitalized at some point. A stay in residential treatment is also common. For young people, parental support is often essential.

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Seek Anorexia Treatment at Emerald Isle Health & Recovery

Are you or your loved one affected by anorexia? Prompt, high-quality treatment sets the stage for your recovery. There is no single approach to anorexia treatment. Instead, effective plans are based on your unique needs and situation.

If you are in immediate danger, you may need to start treatment in a hospital. Once you are stabilized, you can continue on to other forms of care. Basic medical support is common. You may also need more in-depth medical treatment. Today, psychotherapy is standard for people recovering from anorexia. Nutritional therapy also has a major part to play. In addition, reliable family support can be vital.

You may receive successful anorexia treatment in an outpatient program. However, residential treatment is common. In some cases, residential treatment may boost your odds for a lasting recovery. The same holds true for hospitalization.

To learn more about treating anorexia, contact the specialists at Emerald Isle. We can answer any questions you have about treating this complex disorder. Emerald Isle is also your source for comprehensive anorexia treatment. Our services include both psychological assessments and evaluations. They also include detailed, customized treatment plans. We feature both residential and outpatient recovery options. Call us today for more information.