Hi all, welcome back! Today we are going to begin diving into specific eating disorders, beginning with one of the most commonly known, anorexia nervosa. This disorder is the third most prevalent chronic illness in adolescents behind asthma and obesity, respectively and is one of the most dangerous, as it can lead to permanent medical consequences if not treated appropriately.
A challenge that is frequently faced within this disorder is the idea that the person has to be underweight or “look sick.” Individuals with anorexia can continue to present with a normal physical appearance until the disorder has progressed significantly, even lab tests and vitals can indicate no concerns.
Per the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, the following symptoms must be present:
- Weight is at/below 85% of the person’s ideal body weight for their age
- Restriction of food intake leading to weight decrease
- Intense fear of gaining weight or intense preoccupation with weight, shape, and size.
Despite the criteria, there are additional components that are worth mentioning that can indicate this disorder. Physical symptoms and emotional changes are present. For example, in addition to the change in weight, people may experience stomach issues (i.e. constipation, discomfort), difficulty sleeping, endorsing feeling cold, irregular menstrual cycles, thinning hair/nails, dry skin, weakness, poor immune function, and dizziness. When food intake does occur, there is the potential for vomiting as a compensatory behavior. Something to watch for is the potential for calluses on hands and poor dental hygiene due to the vomiting.
Emotional and behavioral changes will also occur. For example, the person may dress in layers despite weather, exhibit increased interest in extreme exercise despite the weather, display frequent anxiety about food and calories, deny feeling hungry, make excuses to avoid mealtimes, have concerns about eating in public, make regular comments about feeling fat, display a strong need for control, and present with inflexible thinking. Some may increase their fluid intake significantly to curb hunger.
With the recent interest in “healthy” eating, anorexia can mask itself in a lifestyle that restricts a specific category of food. For example, if your child is demonstrating a sudden interest in vegetarianism, veganism, or a way of eating that cuts out types of food, this may reflect the attitude of a disorder.
As mentioned above, there are medical concerns that specifically coincide with anorexia nervosa. Due to the starvation of the body, all processes slow down to conserve the energy that is provided. The lack of intake promotes the body to begin using itself to preserve. Becoming dehydrated can lead to an electrolyte imbalance as well as significant heart problems.
It’s important to know of these medical factors, and they will be addressed more in-depth in an upcoming post. As always, if you are concerned about someone, please reach out because it could save a life.