Living with anorexia is a life-long struggle.
While it is possible, with treatment, to overcome anorexia nervosa to some extent and focus on being physically and mentally healthy, some physical and emotional after effects will continue. Getting treatment boosts patients’ ability to work towards recovery and transition back to a normal life, but rarely is someone completely “cured”.
What happens after treatment for anorexia?
After treatment is finished and the patient is in the remedial process, their body goes through a series of after effects while healing from the trauma of being severely malnourished. These will vary depending on the age and gender of the patient, but may include:
- Impaired cognitive functioning for up to six months.
- Problems with ovulation and menstruation (for females).
- Electrolyte imbalances.
- Stunted growth.
- Digestive issues.
- Dental problems.
If treatment is received earlier in the disorder, the after affects will be fewer and will not last as long.
Because anorexia may not be completely curable in all cases, parents and caregivers should always remain sensitive to the patient’s potential issues with food and weight gain. The lifestyle of an anorexia patient post-treatment is one that will be filled with daily struggles. For example, some recovering anorexics still find it difficult to eat out at restaurants, as they prefer the control of regular eating routines. Another challenge many face even after treatment is their perceived ideal body image.
It can take years until the patient is comfortable eating again. Negative thoughts associated with anorexia can sneak in at moments of hunger or of fullness – and patients need to constantly manage these recurring thoughts. While weight and eating are a large part of getting better, overcoming anorexia is also about dealing with the mental and emotional aspects of the disease: fears, confidence, emotions, motivations and underlying issues. During treatment, patients will learn strategies to face these thoughts when they come up, but it can take years of managing to make the positive, healthy thoughts a permanent fixture in the brain.
Determination to remain in control and stay in recovery, coupled with support from professionals and family are key factors that can make a significant difference in the healing process. The road to recovery from anorexia may be challenging but ensuring that the right support system is in place can mean the difference between rehabilitation and relapse.