What is anorexia?

What is anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental illness characterized by significant weight loss; difficulties maintaining appropriate body weight and, for some, body dysmorphia.  At any given time, anorexia nervosa will affect 0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men, and it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition states the following are present in all diagnosed cases of anorexia nervosa:

  • Restriction of energy intake, resulting in significantly low body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat (despite having a significantly low body weight)
  • Disturbance in the experience of body weight or shape; undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Although all criteria from the DSM-5 may not be met, a serious eating disorder may still be present.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

You cannot tell if someone is struggling with anorexia just by looking at them; individuals do not need to be underweight or emaciated to have the disorder. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa vary on the length and severity of the disorder, and may include the following:

  • Weight loss (significant or sudden)
  • Preoccupation with weight, body, food, calories, fat grams, exercise and/or dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or food groups
  • Complaints of constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, lethargy, and/or excess energy
  • Distorted self-image
  • Expressed anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat”
  • Denial of hunger
  • Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate)
  • Avoidance of meals as well as other situations involving food
  • Participation in an excessive, rigid exercise regimen
  • Engage in compensatory behaviors (subjective bingeing, purging, laxatives, exercise)
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and/or activities
  • Increased irritability
  • Concern about eating in public
  • Limited insight into and/or denial of the above mentioned unhealthy behavioral or cognitive patterns
  • Primary amenorrhea (failure to start menstrual cycle)
  • Secondary amenorrhea (loss of period) or has irregular periods
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Dental issues, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia can seriously damage your body, as it takes a greater physical toll than most other mental health conditions. Some of the physical consequences can appear:

  • Slow heart rate and low blood pressure; the risk for heart failure increases, as heart rate and blood pressure decrease
  • Reduction of bone density (dry, brittle bones); the risk for osteoporosis/osteopenia increases as bone density decreases
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Dehydration (which can result in kidney failure)
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness
  • Dry hair and skin, hair loss
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair (lanugo) all over the body, including the face, to keep the body warm

 How We Treat

Anorexia can be severe, and even deadly. Without treatment between 5-20% of individuals with anorexia will die from the condition, with treatment the number decreases to 2-3%.  At the River Centre Clinic, we provide an individualized treatment plan designed to meet the specific needs of each client.

Clinical treatment approaches include:

  • Enhanced Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Individual Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Nutritional Rehabilitation
  • Medical and Medication Services

Our highly skilled interdisciplinary team members work closely with clients to design a treatment plan based on the initial assessment and then apply that plan within the framework of evidence-based treatment principles. Clients play a vital role in helping set realistic treatment goals that will help them address the underlying issues of their eating disorder.

Anorexia Treatment at River Centre

You are not alone in your eating disorder; River Centre is here for you. If you or a loved one would like more information about our treatment of anorexia in our programs, call us today at 866.915.8577 or complete our contact form.  Our admissions team is here to assist you.

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