Eating disorders have may different faces, but there is one thing they all have in common – it’s all about food.

For different reasons, eating disorders lead either to too much energy being consumed (in the case of obesity and binge-eating-disorders) or too little energy being consumed (in the case of anorexia). Bulimics on the other hand deal with sudden cravings, pared with compensatory behaviors such as forced vomiting, dietary pills, or periods of fasting. In all of these cases, however, the affected individual is consistently preoccupied with food and their own body weight.

When food becomes a scourge. Those suffering from anorexia experience unhealthy and drastic weightless by consciously starving themselves. Women and especially young women between the ages of 12 and 35 (90-95%) suffer from anorexia, but in recent years the number of young men affected has also been on the rise. Those affected usually have a highly distorted view of themselves, often still seeing themselves as overweight even when they are completely emaciated, and suffer from a constant anxiety of putting on weight. In extrem cases, anorexics will starve themselves to emaciation, which can lead to muscle loss, brittle bones, and problems with the immune system. Similarly to those who suffer from obesity (BMI > 30kg/m2), anorexics are constantly plagued by thoughts about eating and their weight. Often, they show a lot of interest in food, dieting, recipes, and are keenly aware of the calories of many different foods. However, anorexics will try to consume the smallest amount of calories possible. The reason for all this is usually a need for control over oneself and ones body. This means that medical and psychological intervention are necessary to treat anorexia, so as to find the root cause behind the issue.

An ordeal for people involved. Unfortunately, tose suffering from anorexia often do not realize they have a problem, as their view of themselves is completely distorted. Some will also tend towards isolating themselves, which can lead to loneliness and depression. This makes it particularly hard for the loved ones of anorexics, usually parents, as it is very hard to get them the help that they need. Malnourishment can lead to cachexia, a life threatening state of weight loss and nutrient deficiency. At this stage, most of the bodies fat reserves and muscle mass have wasted away. According to Professor Zipfel from the University of Ulm, anorexia has a mortality rate of around 20% long-term, making it the most deadly psychological disorder (ANTOP-study, Lancet 2014). As anorexia is a chronic disorder, poses a life-long struggle to those affected, who suffer under its physiological and physical consequences for the rest of their life.

Putting the weight back on – the biggest hurdle. During the recovery-phase, a normal and health relationship with food needs to be relearned. Many patients struggling with anorexia want to regain their health, but often don’t want to changing their weight… Experts recommend regaining about 1-2kg per week, even though a slower and more lasting weight gain of about 0,5-1kg per week is more realistic. Dietitians recommend a balanced, mixed diet, consisting of full-grain products in place of sugar and starched based diets, as anorexics often lack nutrients and fiber. Supplements can be used to further balance out nutrient deficiencies and imbalances in the gut microbiom. Protein is also particularly important in rebuilding all support structures of our body, such as muscles and bones. Furthermore, it affects many other bodily functions in the form of enzymes and is very important for our immune system.

Anorexia is a lifelong eating disorder, which largely affects young people – mostly young women. Those suffering from anorexia often receive little attention and therefor often receive medical help very late. It is a disease that bring denial, a lack of awareness, secrecy, and a sense of shame with it – in all people involved.

Early detection and intervention are key:

Not pressuring or forcing those affected to eat – this only leads to more secrecy and isolation!

Taking early signs serious – fasting, consciously switching to exclusively low calorie alternatives, exzessive exercising, abusing dietary medications such as laxatives

Asking, how you can help.

Not stigmatizing or shaming! Guilt on the side of parents in neither necessary nor helpful!

Look for external help – online resources for patients and loved ones: https://www.dgess.de or www.sowhat.at

…the earlier a problem is detected, the better the chances for recovery!

Avoid sites using the words pro-ana or pro-mia, such sites idealize anorexia and anorexic bodies!

Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa

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