What is Anorexia?

Information taken from https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-eating-disorders/types-of-eating-disorder/anorexia with my additions in italics

This page is more difficult for me to write about than the page on M.E. I guess because I’ve had M.E. for longer so have had more time to process it. Also because anorexia is a lot scarier than M.E. for me, and for my loved ones. M.E. on its own is unlikely to kill you, whereas anorexia is the most fatal mental illness around. I you think someone you know might have anorexia please try to help them. 

Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people keep their body weight low by dieting, vomiting, using laxatives or excessively exercising. The way people with anorexia see themselves is often at odds with how they are seen by others and they will usually challenge the idea that they should gain weight. For example, they often have a distorted image of themselves, thinking that they’re fat when they’re not. I still don’t know what my true size is because what I see in the mirror changes everytime I look depending on how I feel. People affected by anorexia often go to great attempts to hide their behaviour from family and friends. I became a pro at lying and would feed a lot of my food to my dog.

Often people with anorexia have low confidence and poor self esteem. They can see their weight loss as a positive achievement that can help increase their confidence. I felt like I was failing at everything else in my life during my A Level year (age 18) and losing weight was the only thing I was good at and I made the pretty girls jealous. It can also contribute to a feeling of gaining control over body weight and shape. Having M.E. made me feel completely out of control as I never knew how ill I was going to feel from one day to the next, anorexia made me feel in control of something.

As with other eating disorders, anorexia can be associated with depression, low self-esteem, alcohol misuse and self-harm. I have suffered from all of these problems since I have been ill with M.E. As you can imagine alcohol misuse along with starving myself certainly didn’t do my health any good.

Anorexia is a serious condition that can cause severe physical problems because of the effects of starvation on the body. It made me M.E. a lot worse. This can lead to loss of muscle strength and reduced bone strength in women and girls; in older girls and women their periods often stop. My periods stopped for two years and it changed how I felt. I felt like a little girl instead of a woman. I was too thin to be attractive to men which I believe was a form of self-protection as I’d become scared and mistrusting of them.

The illness can affect people’s relationship with family and friends, causing them to withdraw; it can also have an impact on how they perform in education or at work. I was horrible to my family as the anorexia took over my mind and I didn’t do well at school. When I was suffering from relapses whilst working, my ability to work was compromised. The seriousness of the physical and emotional consequences of the condition is often not acknowledged or recognised and people with anorexia often do not seek help. It was only seeing my mum crying and telling me she was scared I would die that I realised how ill I was and that I needed to get help. I had counselling and saw a nutritionist. 

Behavioural signs

  • Fear of fatness or pursuit of thinness
  • Pre-occupation with body weight
  • Distorted perception of body shape or weight, for example they think they are overweight when actually they are underweight
  • May underestimate the seriousness of the problem even after diagnosis
  • May tell lies about eating or what they have eaten, give excuses about why they are not eating, pretend they have eaten earlier
  • Not being truthful about how much weight they have lost
  • Finding it difficult to think about anything other than food
  • Strict dieting
  • Counting the calories in food excessively
  • Avoiding food they think is fattening
  • Eating only low-calorie food
  • Missing meals (fasting)
  • Avoiding eating with other people
  • Hiding food
  • Cutting food into tiny pieces – to make it less obvious they have eaten little and to make food easier to swallow
  • Taking appetite suppressants, such as slimming or diet pills
  • Rigidity
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Excessive exercising
  • Vomiting or misusing laxatives (purging)
  • Social withdrawal and isolation, shutting yourself off from the world
  • Compromise of educational and employment plans
  • Can be associated with depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Physical signs of anorexia

Some of the more common physical signs of anorexia nervosa are:

  • Severe weight loss
  • In girls and women, periods stop or are irregular (amenorrhea)
  • Lack of sexual interest or potency
  • Difficulty sleeping and tiredness
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Stomach pains
  • Constipation and bloating
  • Feeling cold or have a low body temperature
  • Growth of downy (soft and fine) hair all over your body (called Lanugo)
  • Hair falls out
  • Getting irritable and moody
  • Setting high standards and being a perfectionist
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • WeaknessLoss of muscle strength
  • Effects on endocrine system
  • Swelling in their feet, hands or face (known as oedema)
  • Low blood pressure

Long term effects of anorexia

  • Physical effects of starvation and consequences of purging behaviour. Starvation effects every system in the body
  • In children, puberty is delayed and growth and physical development usually stunted
  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
  • Purging can result in erosion of tooth enamel
  • Difficulty conceiving, infertility

I am fortunate that I got help before long-term effects set in. I lost my periods for two years but they have come back and I’m working on getting them healthy so that one day, when my M.E. is also better, I could have to chance of being a mother. I shrunk and damaged my stomach so badly that it took a long time to get to the point where I could eat a normal meal and I still can’t eat certain foods and shouldn’t drink alcohol.

Anorexia still effects me. I’m still controlling around food and get obsessive sometimes. The nasty voice pipes up a lot and makes me do weird things, so I have to fight it. It is still hard for my family and loved ones. But anorexia doesn’t control me anymore and I fight it every day to make sure it doesn’t win. I hope one day that I’ll be completely free of it. I have been told that it is the hardest mental illness to overcome and I should be proud of how well I’m doing. And I am.