How Anorexia Affects the Body
Anorexia Nervosa or “Anorexia” is a life-threatening disease that causes a person to go to extreme measures to remain at a low weight or slim figure. Someone who suffers from this will often use techniques such as excessive exercise, dieting, vomiting, diet aids, laxatives or other diuretics in order to achieve their optimal weight.
People with anorexia will severely reduce their calorie intake, often to the point of starvation in order to lose weight and remain thin. Their bodies will eventually go into a state of “starvation” causing their brains to become changed effecting their ability to process information or be interested in things that they previously enjoyed.
Anorexia can be very debilitating and a serious health condition that needs to be addressed. The first step in getting treatment is to admit that there is a problem. There is help available and the sooner you ask the better your success will be.
Symptoms of Anorexia:
- Severe weight loss
- Wearing layers to hide weight loss
- Obsessed with weight gain, food, calories, dieting or exercise
- Denies hunger cues
- Uncomfortable eating in public
- Talks about needing to burn off calories taken in
- Avoids mealtimes or situations where food is involved
- Refuses to eat specific foods in fear of gaining weight (no carbohydrates, fats, etc.)
- Unable to maintain a weight that is appropriate for their age, height and overall build
- Intense fear of being overweight or fat despite weight loss
- Body aches such as constipation, lethargy, cold intolerance or excess energy
- Constantly commenting on being fat or overweight
- Female loses period post puberty
- Inflexible thinking and lack of social spontaneity
- Heightened emotional expression
- Gastrointestinal problems including stomach pains, constipation or acid reflux
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Difficulties with concentration
- Feeling cold all the time
- Dry skin
- Sleep disturbances
- Dizziness or fainting
- Anemia, low thyroid or other hormone imbalances
- Fine hair on the body (lanugo)
- Muscle weakness
- Cuts or callouses around the finger or joint area due to forced vomiting
- Yellowing skin
- Lowered immune system
- Dental problems such as cavities or tooth sensitivity
- Dry or brittle hair
- Poor wound healing
Physical Effects of Anorexia
When you don’t put enough calories in your body that it needs to function at a normal level then it begins to break down your body’s tissue to use as fuel and energy. The body starts to break down muscle tissue, as it’s the first to go and one of the most important muscles in our body is our heart. When the heart has less fuel to use it begins to slow down causing a decrease in our pulse and blood pressure
My name is Ashley Lytwyn and I’m the director of nutrition at breathe life healing centers in West Hollywood California. At Breathe we help people recover from eating disorders and anorexia is an eating disorder that we treat.
Anorexia is a disorder that is characterized by very low body weight. The fear of gaining weight even if it’s just a couple pounds and having a distorted view of your own body or shape.
People suffering from anorexia are compelled to diet and exercise regardless of the negative consequences on the body mind and soul. Restricting food becomes an automatic habit and thought of eating high-calorie food has a lot of fear and anxiety. With the restriction the brain of the gut function is altered a person is in a starved state. This changes the way that we think and behave the ability to pay attention to focus to concentrate on things that you would normally love and that starts to deteriorate.
When the brain isn’t getting enough food it will constantly think about what it needs. And in this case its food!
A few causes of anorexia might be genetic or hormonal. Specifically relating to the signals that convey hunger and fullness. It might be social or environmental with popular diet culture. Emphasizing yo-yo dieting, glorifying weight loss, and idealizing people in smaller bodies.
It can also be asymptomatic expression of unresolved trauma. The treatment and recovery process for anorexia can be challenging due to the sheer nature of this disorder.
The disorder takes away the ability to rationally or reasonably think about what food does for the body. And what it really does? It provide respect and nourishment for our lives. Weight restoration, normalizing eating behaviors, and challenging those negative perceptions about food and body are the first steps for recovery.
When purging or vomiting happens it depletes the body of necessary electrolytes which helps the heartbeat and the muscles contract. Other areas of concern are other electrolytes such as sodium and chloride which can become imbalanced during purging. Imbalances with our electrolytes can cause irregular heartbeats and possible heart failure leading to death.
When there are restrictions on food or purging/vomiting happening it can cause interferences with normal emptying of the stomach and digestion of important nutrients causing:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain or bloating
- Bacterial infections
- Fluctuations in blood sugar
- Blocked intestines or masses of undigested food
- Feeling full after ingesting small amounts of food
- Lack of nutritional intake, meaning there isn’t enough in the intestines for the body to eliminate
- Long term nutritional deficiencies can weaken the intestinal muscles and leave them to be no strong enough to propel digested food from the body
- Abusing laxatives can cause damage to the nerve endings which makes the body rely on them in order to have a bowel movement
Vomiting can create wear and tear on the esophagus causing it to rupture, and ultimately be a life-threatening problem. Frequent bouts of vomiting can cause salivary (parotid) glands under the jaw and in front to be swollen.
Along with these issues, pancreatitis can arise due to malnutrition and purging causing the pancreas to become inflamed.
- Bowel problems from ingested items that cause a physical obstruction in the intestines
- Ingestion of a non-food item that may create a hole in the wall of a stomach which causes intestinal perforation
- A mass of undigestible material or bezoar that gets trapped in the gastrointestinal tract including the esophagus, intestines or stomach
- When someone fasts, loses a lot of calories, or begins to hit starvation state the brain is affected and loses much needed nutrients in order to function properly. This can lead to obsession with food along with difficulty concentrating on things.
- Severe hunger or being overly full can cause sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Electrolytes are needed to send the right signals to the brain to function properly, without these can cause severe disturbances in the brain which in turn may lead to seizures or muscle cramps.
- Fainting or dizziness can happen due to lack of blood flow to the brain.
- Our body’s hormones come from the cholesterol and fat that we ingest and without it our hormone levels can start to fall including:
- Thyroid hormones
- Estrogen and testosterone
- Menstruation may stop, become irregular or fail to begin due to lowered sex hormones
- Bone loss can happen when sex hormones are lowered
Los Angeles Anorexia Treatment
Anorexia is one of the most painful mental health disorders in the world. Not only are you suffering from the severe physical effects caused by the disorder, but you are probably also grappling with the emotional aspects of it, too. Continuing with your behaviors surrounding food and nourishment will only lead to negative results, including the potential for death. And while it can be hard to ask for help, doing so can save your life.
There is no shame in struggling with an eating disorder, regardless of how severe it is. Participating in anorexia eating disorder treatment in Los Angeles can help you to not only get better physically but also address the psychological issues that stand in the way from accepting yourself as you are.
There is no time to wait. Call us today and begin your journey to recovery.