What is Anorexia?

HPA/LiveWell treats this life-threatening eating disorder.

Anorexia is a serious, life-threatening eating disorder. Sufferers often see themselves as overweight, even though it is obvious to family and friends that they are malnourished. These patients continually ignore their hunger or may not recognize hunger cues. Their intense fear of weight gain causes them to restrict the food they eat in order to control their hunger.

In addition to not eating, some sufferers lose weight by exercising excessively, by misusing laxatives, enemas or diuretics, and by self-inducing vomiting. Normal body function can be impaired. Some of these impairments include loss of hair, dental erosion, and more. Plus, women who are anorexic will often stop menstruating.

What are the two types of anorexia?

  1. People with Anorexia Nervosa Restricting Type lose weight primarily by severely restricting the calories they consume.
  2. People who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa Binge/Eating Purging Type are underweight by way of restricting their intake as well as binging and purging.

What causes anorexia?

While there isn’t a universally accepted cause of an eating disorder, there are many hypotheses. Most clinicians believe that eating disorders are caused by biological, psychological and social factors. It has been said that a person’s genetics loads the gun while the psychological and social factors pull the trigger.

  • Biological/psychological factors – Research shows that eating disorders seem to have some genetic roots. People with eating disorders often come from families where others have struggled with an eating disorder or have struggled with other psychological disorders or addictions. Some of the most closely linked psychological disorders include anxiety, depression, OCD and ADHD. Often, people diagnosed with an eating disorder are also diagnosed with other psychological disorders. Personality characteristics also may play a role. Perfectionists, high achievers and those who have a need to be in control may be at higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
  • Social factors – Social influences affect people throughout their lives. Many people with eating disorders spend time comparing themselves to others in an attempt to assess their own personal “goodness” or “worth.” These people may have low self-confidence when around others. Many people who struggle with an eating disorder say they have been bullied. People who are bullied for being overweight, or bullied in general, may use eating disorder behaviors to lose weight or help themselves feel in control of how they look in order to stop the bullying.

Over time, eating disorder behavior may seem to develop into a coping skill for these people. They learn to use the behaviors to calm themselves or disconnect from stressors.

At HPA/LiveWell, our anorexia and bulimia treatment programs help our patients understand how the eating disorder “works” for them. We guide our patients to interrupt these behaviors by teaching new skills to replace those unhealthy behaviors.

What is anorexia? Here are signs and symptoms to look for:

Anorexia is characterized by a refusal to eat sufficient food in spite of feelings of severe hunger. Sufferers often have an unnatural fear of gaining weight and may also have a tendency to over-exercise or use other compensatory behaviors to manage their weight.

Other signs and symptoms of anorexia may include (but are not limited to):

  • A body weight of 85 percent or lower than the ideal weight for their height and body type
  • Negative feelings about body size or shape
  • Severe fasting or food restricting
  • Periods of food binging followed by purging
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Missed periods (this is called amenorrhea)
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Slow or irregular heart rhythms

It’s vital that someone suffering with anorexia nervosa receive treatment as soon as possible. If the individual becomes severely malnourished, this may result in long-term or permanent damage to the body’s vital organs.

Successfully treating anorexia requires a three-pronged approach.

At HPA/LiveWell, we believe that treating anorexia is complex and must include a three-pronged approach. This life-threatening illness must be addressed:

  1. Medically
  2. Psychologically
  3. Nutritionally

Because anorexia nervosa is life-threatening, every patient − regardless of the severity of the symptoms − should be monitored closely by either a primary care physician or a physician specializing in clinical nutrition. These providers will use blood work, bone scans and EKGs to check for any medical complications related to the eating disorder.

Our LiveWell program uses a proven approach to treat the difficult psychological aspects of anorexia.

What, exactly, is anorexia? While the medical complications seem to get the attention of most clinicians, loved ones, and the patients themselves, it is the psychological aspects of the illness that can be most difficult to treat. Mental health clinicians must first help the patient agree to change unhealthy behaviors.

This can be one of the most difficult aspects of treatment. At HPA/LiveWell, we’ve found the use of motivational interviewing to be very useful to help the patient establish the reasons for change.

Once the patient agrees to make some changes, our clinicians can use other forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. These are all geared toward changing the way the person thinks and behaves.

Our LiveWell results-oriented outpatient program enables patients to remain in their own home and draw on the support of family and friends. This support is vital to the success of our patients. Another vital aspect in our treatment success is introduced during our very first meeting with patients – their responsibility in the treatment. We pledge to work every bit as hard as our patients to manage their anorexia.

Getting back to a normal life requires healthy eating.

At HPA/LiveWell, we also believe it’s critical to involve a dietician who specializes in treating eating disorders. Our dietician works with the patient to develop a meal plan. Without the help of a dietician, the patient is often confused about healthy eating. Our dietician can help to manage myths and fears related to food, so the patient can begin to eat in a healthy way.

If you are asking, “what is anorexia,” you (or your loved one) may have tried other treatment programs. If you hear nothing else, hear this: Our LiveWell program works. If you are ready to make a change and get your life back, we’ll be with you every step of the way. Together, we’ll find the tools to help you recover.

Our Treatment Programs Get Results

To learn more, call to speak with a Case Manager today. In Albany, NY