Anorexia: How to Support Someone's Recovery

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the patient fears becoming overweight, and goes to extreme measures to remain thin. Anorexics are often obsessed with food, exercise and nutrition, and may diet and exercise until they are dangerously emaciated. People with anorexia think that they look fat even when they’re literally starving to death. It is a serious, even deadly condition that requires medical treatment. Here’s how you can support a loved one who is struggling to recover from anorexia.

Types and Symptoms of Anorexia

There are two kinds of anorexia. Restrictive anorexics lose weight through excessive exercise, fasting and restricting calories to an extreme and unhealthy degree. Purging anorexics use diuretics, laxatives and vomiting to purge themselves of calories that they have consumed.

Anorexics are almost always severely underweight, and yet steadfastly refuse to eat enough to maintain a healthy body weight. They refuse to acknowledge the health dangers of being underweight, such as heart problems and malnutrition. In fact, most believe they’re overweight despite the overwhelming contrary evidence that appears in the mirror. Anorexics live in fear of being or becoming overweight.

Men, women and children of all ages might suffer from anorexia, but it’s most common in girls and women who are 13 to 20 years of age.

The Behaviors and Physical Symptoms of Anorexia

There are certain behavioral and physical symptoms of anorexia. Knowing what they are can help you recognize when a loved one needs help. Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Lying about eating or making up excuses not to eat
  • Obsession with dieting
  • Keeping records of everything she eats
  • Following incredibly restricted diets–often eating far fewer than her minimum daily calorie requirements, no matter how underweight she becomes
  • Preferring to eat alone
  • Eating her food in specific ritualized ways
  • Exercising compulsively even if she is sick or injured
  • Appearing to exercise in order to punish herself for “bad” eating behavior
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Using laxatives or diuretics to lose weight
  • Losing huge amounts of weight for no apparent reason
  • Complaining about being fat or overweight
  • Appearing to be obsessed with her own body weight
  • Being overly critical of her appearance
  • Hotly denying the fact that she is underweight

Supporting A Loved One with Anorexia

If you have a loved one who is suffering from anorexia, your support can be a vital part of her recovery. Encourage your loved one to get help by expressing your concerns in a caring and nonjudgmental way. If she opens up to you, try listening without offering advice or opinions.

The more people who are available to support your loved one’s anorexia recovery, the better. Seek the help of friends and relatives. A physician can give you advice to help support her recovery, even if she doesn’t want to go to the doctor.

You can also help by setting a good example of healthy eating and exercise habits, as well as by expressing acceptance of your own body and the bodies of others.

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