We obsess so much over weight loss that often we don’t realise that we may be a victim of Anorexia, an eating disorder characterised by a rapid decrease in weight and severe struggle with body image issues. Statistics reveal about 90-95% people diagnosed with anorexia are girls or women. In a country like India, health problems like eating disorders and mental health issues are largely unaddressed, and thus, people with anorexia are largely reluctant towards their health condition, which in turn, adds more to complex nature of the disease.
In this article, we will learn more about anorexia and know how to recover from anorexia, step by step.
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia may be defined as a psychological eating disorder wherein the patient suffers from a lower Body Mass Index and a lack of appetite due to self-starvation. Anorexia is also labelled as a mental illness as it comes with low self-esteem issues, depression, obsession over dieting and a constant fear that they might gain weight.
Here are the major characteristics of anorexia:
- People suffering from anorexia may experience dizziness, low blood pressure, low body temperature, fainting and fatigued.
- Anorexia may also result in social isolation, hyperactivity and compulsive behaviour.
- The victim may also experience frequent mood swings, and the feeling of anxiety, apprehension, guilt or depression may hover around.
- Thinness and constant weight loss is one of the major symptoms of anorexia.
- Constipation and vomiting is a common symptom for the diagnosis of anorexia.
- Anorexia in women may lead to irregular menstruation or complete absence of menstruation.
Other common symptoms are dry hair and skin, headache, sensitivity to cold, brittle nails, bruising and slow heart rate. These vivid and persisting symptoms are what make self-diagnosis for anorexia possible.
Types of Anorexia
Anorexia may be classified into two major types:
- Binge/Purge type- People suffering from Binge or Purge anorexia tends to purge after eating due to the constant fear of gaining weight. The fear of the anorexic that he/she mightgain weight may drive the anorexic to exercise excessively, puking out after meals or taking laxatives.
- Restrictive type- In this type of anorexia, the patient tends to cut on his/her calories intake so excessively that he/she ends up consuming fewer calories than what is required for the body to function. Self-starvation is an appropriate term in this case.
Stages of Recovery from Anorexia
Every recovery begins with a realisation. Recovery from Anorexia is not a one-night thing. It is rather a long-term process which shall require a lot of patience on the part of the anorexic, a qualified team of professionals for treatment and most of all, the love and support of the near and dear ones.
The step by step process to overcome Anorexia involves different stages of change. These stages do not typically have an upper limit or a lower limit. These stages are also not a labelled stairway for progression. It is rather a cycle which might repeatedly occur to the anorexic before he/she may move on towards progression.
For instance, the anorexic may be in the Action Stage which requires him/her to confront the disorder and thereby make changes in their eating habits and might still be dealing with the contemplation stage (characterized by self-doubt, scepticism about the treatment and realisation about one’s body image and other related issues).
The progress to recover from anorexia is relative and complex. It is also highly individualised as a person may time and again visit a certain stage before addressing his/her core problems about the disorder.
Given below are the stages to recover from anorexia:
- Pre-contemplating Stage- This is the stage where the anorexic is reluctant of his eating disorder and erratic behaviour towards weight gain. The person is indifferent towards the signs and symptoms of Anorexia and lives in denial of the mental illness.
At this stage, awareness regarding the disease and its symptoms is very important — parents and close family and friends of the anorexic need to educate the individual about the disorder and life-threatening effects of it. They may also be positive and encourage the change for betterment.
- Contemplation Stage- In this stage of recovery, the patient comes in term with the problem and acknowledges the disorder. During this stage, the patient may be fearful towards change and might require Therapy. Once the patient is educated and recognises the causes for the disorder, she/he would want to fix it on their own.
- Preparation stage- In this stage, the anorexic is ready to change to rule out the eating disorder but is unsure about how to do it. Herein, the patient, along with his treatment team which may include a physician, a psychotherapist and nutritionist, develops a plan of action, sets guidelines and identifies the potential impediments towards change. The preparation stage also requires the patient to identify his/her thoughts relating to body image and address them as required.
- Action Stage- In this stage, the anorexic follows his/her nutritionist’s recommendation and take steps towards change. It involves removal of triggers on the part of the anorexic-like eating restrictive meals, eating diet food and exercising heavily.
- Maintenance Stage- This is the final stage towards recovery. An individual is said to progress to the maintenance stage if he/she successfully sustains the Action Stage for more than six months. Here, the individual has to lay stress on the establishment of a new area of interest and needs to continue the process of self-awareness, adjusting to developments.
Treatment to Recover from Anorexia
There are three components following which shall help the individual recover from Anorexia. These are:
- Medical Assistance- The individual has to seek medical assistance for the treatment of the disorder. Treatment of health issues such as malnutrition, amenorrhea, unstable heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance and more such health problems may be treated with the right medication. The key here is to keep the individual sound physically to stimulate mental and behavioural changes.
- Nutritional assistance- It focuses on restoration of body weight and normalisation of eating patterns and also the formulation of a healthy meal.
- Therapy- Therapy addresses underlying problems on the part of the anorexic such as low self-esteem, body image issues, stress or trauma that may interfere with the progress.
When supporting a dear one to recover from Anorexia, identify your role and take note of your contribution to the process. All it requires is a lot of patience, mental input and encouragement, love and support from the near and dear ones to recover from Anorexia.