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What is Anorexia?

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What is Anorexia

What is AnorexiaPeople who suffer from anorexia nervosa or “anorexia” have an extremely low body weight and a strong worry of gaining weight. They believe that they are overweight no matter how they look in the mirror and have a distorted perception of their body in general. They have a strong urge to control their body weight and size no matter the negative consequences that can happen from lack of nutrition.

Anorexia can cause someone to prevent weight gain using dangerous and life-threatening measures. They severely restrict their calorie intake and may use vomiting, purging, laxatives, diet aids, diuretics or enemas to lose weight. They may also use exercise inappropriately or excessively in order to keep a slim figure.

Other factors include restricting calories to the point of becoming a habit and a strong fear of eating high calorie food items. When someone severely reduces their calorie intake, and does not eat enough throughout the day, their body will shift into a “starved state” causing their brain to be affected. This changes the way that we think and behave along with our ability to pay attention to the things that one would normally like or be interested in.


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.

Like other eating disorders, anorexia can take over your entire life, and can be extremely difficult to overcome. With the right treatment, you can conquer the hurdles that follow an eating disorder and there is help available.

Symptoms of Anorexia

The earlier anorexia is treated the higher likelihood of getting help. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the physical and mental symptoms that happen when someone has this disease. People who suffer from anorexia will not exhibit all these symptoms but may exhibit some. This is a general overview of people who have the disease and the symptoms they experience.

Behavioral Signs:

  • 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

Physical Signs:

  • 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

Living with Anorexia

Living with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa can be very uncomfortable, stressful and it can affect family members. Some tips for people who have family that suffer from this disease include:

  1. Help with finding the right treatment program for your loved one by doing research and meeting with people
  2. Always be kind and respectful rather than judgmental
  3. Seek out education and support groups
  4. Find treatment that includes a therapist, a dietician and a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders
  5. Always review the treatment plan and make changes as necessary

Risk Factors

There is no known cause to why people develop eating disorders or what causes it. Research shows that there are genetic, environmental, social and psychological components that all contribute to developing the disorder. Serotonin, which is a naturally occurring brain chemical that regulates our mood, learning and sleep could also affect our eating habits.

Societal expectations in reference to weight and beauty can play a role in if someone develops an eating disorder. In Western culture there is an expectation for wealthy people to also possess certain characteristics such as beauty, slim figure and overall perfect appearance.

Anorexia is most common in women and in the United States up to 1% of women suffer from it, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. In the whole population of people with eating disorders, men only make up 5-10%.

When to Get Help

The first step in getting help for anorexia is to admit that you have a problem. When someone suffers from anorexia, their body will keep telling them that they are not good enough, thin enough or convince them that they need to lose more weight. This is not the truth. Happiness comes from how you feel about yourself and loving yourself for who you truly are.

The admissions process can take time and be a huge challenge, especially if you still have it in your mind that you need to lose weight or be thin for your own self-worth. Despite changing your mindset, the old habits could come lingering back and make it very difficult to avoid relapse.

True recovery from anorexia nervosa includes:

  • Listening to your body
  • Listening to your feelings
  • Love yourself
  • Accept who you are

Treatment for Anorexia

Diagnostic Criteria

  • Body weight is less than 85% normal for age and height
  • Being underweight and still having intense fear of gaining weight
  • A woman who misses more than 3 periods during her adult life
  • Obsession with body weight, shape and size or false perception of weight

Types of Treatment

  • Maudsley Method- people who have only had the disorder for 3 years or less can benefit from this method. A 3-phase technique that involves the patient, their families and nutritional strategies.
  • Nutrition therapy- therapists will combine positive reinforcement along with close monitoring to help patients develop healthy eating behaviors.
  • Medications- antipsychotics or antidepressants can sometimes help with the symptoms associated with anorexia.
  • Psychotherapy- once a healthy weight and eating habit is established, a patient can begin to learn techniques to recognize distorted feelings around eating.

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 on 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.

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