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Understanding Anorexia and How Private Rehab Can Help

In 2007, a French model named Isabelle Caro made headlines when she posed nude for the Italian label Nolita. The model posed suggestively, but what struck most people about the photo was the state of the model’s body. According to the New York Times, the model was 5-feet, 4-inches tall, and she weighed only 60 pounds. While some people found the images startling or even alarming, there might be a small set of people who found the photos inspiring.

If you have anorexia, you might be one of those people. When you looked at these photos, you might have admired her ability to stay thin. You might have even thought she could stand to lose a few pounds.

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Anorexia causes you to strive for extreme thinness. In fact, almost all of your decisions might revolve around restricting your calories and dropping weight. While you might think your weight loss represents your remarkable discipline and your ability to do things others may never be able to do, it’s important to remember that anorexia can be deadly. The control you seek could end up costing your life. For example, Isabelle Caro achieved an extreme weight loss, but she died in 2010, when she was only 28 years old. Don’t let it happen to you. With treatment in a private inpatient rehab, and a lot of support, you can overcome this disease and learn to maintain a healthier weight.

An Issue of Control

luxury-shutter281156501-hopeless-girlAmerican culture tells us that people who are thin are smart, successful and in control. It’s no wonder that so many people focus on their weight when they’re trying to gain control of their lives. It can seem like a magic bullet: If I change this one thing about myself, my entire life can change as a result. Almost anyone can think this way, and almost everyone has struggled with body image and weight. It’s just a part of American life. But if you have anorexia, you’re taking this common ideal of beauty and stretching it to a dangerous extreme.

If you’re struggling with anorexia, these statements might seem recognizable to you:

  1. I have a list of foods I consider good, and a list of foods I consider bad.
  2. I never eat meat or high-fat foods.
  3. I prefer to eat fewer than 1,000 calories each day, and I count each calorie I eat.
  4. I make food for my family, but I try not to eat it myself.
  5. I think I’m really fat, even though everyone around me says that I’m not.
  6. I’m always cold, and I notice that I’m growing fine, downy hairs all over my body.
  7. I keep by body covered up all of the time, so no one will see how my body looks.
  8. I keep a diet soda or iced tea in my hands all of the time, so I won’t eat.
  9. I weigh myself multiple times each day.
  10. When I can survive all day on one cracker, I feel so powerful.

Anorexia isn’t diagnosed by how much you weigh. Instead, it’s diagnosed by how you feel about your weight. People with anorexia refuse to maintain a body weight that’s within 85 percent of what is considered normal, according to Psych Central. It’s the refusal that’s important here. If someone is quite ill and cannot keep on weight, that person doesn’t have anorexia. But, if you have the ability to gain weight, and you have the opportunity to keep that weight on, and you consistently refuse to do so, you could have anorexia.

Talking to Someone About Anorexia

If your friend or your child is struggling with anorexia, you may wonder what you should say to encourage that person to get help. These tips from the National Eating Disorders Association may help:

  • Make a date for a private conversation, away from distractions and far from others who may eavesdrop or interrupt.
  • Share your thoughts, explaining the signs you’ve seen of anorexia and the fears you have about the person’s health. Explain that these signs indicate that the person might need help from a professional.
  • Stress that treatment works, and offer to go with the person to an appointment. A counselor, a doctor or a nutritionist might all be able to provide lifesaving advice.
  • Do not fight with the person. If that person won’t admit that there is a problem, just repeat your original statements. Don’t get mad, or place blame.
  • Be reasonable, and try not to make light of the issue. Statements like, “You need to eat, and then life will be great!” are not helpful. Remember that the person has a medical issue, and it can be hard to accept and overcome.
  • Be caring. Throughout your conversation, express your love and support for the person.
  • Take care of yourself. If the person refuses to get any help at all, talk to an adult, or schedule time to meet with your own therapist to talk about your feelings.

Who Is at Risk?

It’s unlikely that you planned to develop anorexia. In fact, it might seem like the disorder snuck up on you, with tiny adjustments in your diet becoming more and more like habits, and your behavior seemed to become more and more extreme. It’s a common statement. There are some things that could put you at a higher risk of developing anorexia, and many of these factors are completely outside of your sphere of control.

Anorexia could spring from this inherited defect.

For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) considers anorexia to be an inherited disease. Relatives of people with anorexia are 10 times more likely to develop eating disorders of their own, compared to people who do not have relatives with anorexia. It seems to be an issue that runs in families, and this is clearly not a risk factor you have any control over whatsoever. Sometimes the behavior is learned in families.

If your mother had an eating disorder, for example, she may have bombarded you with messages about the benefits of being thin, and perhaps these are lessons you learned to apply in your own life. Other times the anorexia develops due to genes. NAMI reports that people with anorexia tend to have lower levels of a brain hormone released during stressful situations, and this issue could cause you to look for other ways to cope with stress.

There are some personality traits that could also put you at higher risk for anorexia, and these traits may also be somewhat difficult to control. For example, a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that people who had anorexia tended to score high on tests of perfectionism. In other words, you might hold very high standards for yourself, doing things just right and being very picky about the use of the word “successful.”

This is a trait you might have held your entire life, but you can learn to think differently, and act differently, in therapy.

Finally, the culture you live in can also play a role in the development of anorexia. Living within a culture that values being thin can cause an intense amount of pressure deep within your mind. If magazines, television shows and movies all show people who are extremely thin, and only those people are considered beautiful, it’s easy to believe that you will only be beautiful when you are also thin.

Pro-Ana Websites Hold Special Dangers

The Internet can be a place of healing, full of articles that can inspire you to get treatment and overcome anorexia. Unfortunately, it can also be a dangerous place for you to browse. There are some websites that claim to provide help for anorexia, yet these sites provide information that might make the disease even worse. They may call themselves “pro-ana” websites, or anorexia support groups. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 85 percent of these websites contain photos of dangerously thin people, and 83 percent provided suggestions on how to engage in eating disordered behavior. Until you’re feeling well, it’s best to steer clear of these sites altogether. They seem to do much more harm than good.

What Anorexia Can Do to You

While you might spend the majority of time thinking about the ways that your eating helps you to look thinner and more closely conform to an “ideal” picture of beauty, the disorder can also do a significant amount of damage to the rest of your body, and you might not even know those problems are occurring. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these are just a few health problems that anorexia can cause:

  • Memory loss, fainting and a low mood
  • Thinning and brittle hair
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Anemia

  • Bone loss
  • Kidney failure
  • Constipation
  • Lack of periods

While this list might be frightening, there is good news. Many of these problems are completely reversible, as long as you gain weight and maintain that new weight. It is important to get treatment, however, as some of these problems could be life-threatening if they’re left untreated.

Anorexia in Men

While it’s true that most people who develop anorexia are female, men can also develop the disorder. In fact, according to ANRED, at least 10 percent of people with anorexia are male. Men in modern society are also under extreme pressure to be thin and fit, and men also can be perfectionists and feel in control when they are in charge of their weight.

Getting Treatment

luxury-shutter319170086-anorexic-girlYour physical health with be of prime importance during your anorexia treatment program. A dietitian will need to work with you to help you retrain your body to accept food and digest it properly. You might eat several very small meals each day, slowly introducing fats, meats and dairy back into your diet in low doses, ensuring that you’re eating the right amount of food without making you feel ill or uncomfortable.

Treatment goes beyond asking you to put on weight, however. You’ll need to examine why the disease began, and you’ll need to think about what you can do differently to keep anorexia from impacting you again. A therapist can design a program for you that helps you develop new skills you can use when the pressure mounts to restrict your eating once more. Sometimes, your family will come with you to therapy sessions. They may have a major role to play in helping you to get better, and they may need to learn how to provide that care without stepping on your rights and making you feel uncomfortable or child-like.

In family therapy, you may also have the opportunity to work through old trauma or uncomfortable situations, and this could help all of you learn to communicate more clearly, with no secrets and no resentment.
Some people benefit from antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications in addition to their counseling sessions. This might be true for you if you have an underlying mental illness such as depression or post-traumatic syndrome that is interfering with your ability to think clearly and live a healthy lifestyle. Not everyone with anorexia needs medications, however, and not all medications have been proven helpful in treating anorexia. This is a decision you’ll make in consultation with your doctor.

Recovery from anorexia is possible. According to a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 76 percent of people studied with anorexia met the criteria for full recovery after going through therapy. It’s important to note that the recovery time can be lengthy, however. In this study, most people needed 57 to 79 months to truly heal. In a way, this makes sense. Your anorexia likely didn’t develop overnight, so there’s no reason to believe that it would also go away in just a few days or weeks.

But if you stick with your therapy program, you can get well. Please contact us to find out more.

Reducing Culture’s Impact

While you’re in recovery from anorexia, your therapist might suggest that you cancel your subscriptions to fashion magazines. You might even need to stay away from television shows for a period of time. Humans are visual creatures, and anorexia heightens your sensitivity to images of thinness. If you’re constantly looking at pictures of very thin people, you might be tempted to return to your habits and become quite thin yourself. It might be best to avoid those images, at least for a time, so your recovery can strengthen.