The culture surrounding anorexia is toxic, from thinspo to fast fasting to starvation tips. This might seem ridiculous to someone without anorexia or an ED to wrap their head around, but that’s because at the end of the day anorexia is a mental illness which needs to be approached the same way any other mental illness should be approached: With understanding, love and a fighting spirit.
If you thought you knew the ends and outs of anorexia, you might find yourself surprised after you read this.
What exactly is anorexia?
Anorexia is an eating disorder that causes someone to obsess over their weight and eating habits. It’s a mental disorder that can lead to extreme dieting, starvation, excessive exercise. The goal for someone anorexic is to be thin, but even if they achieve that feat–or if they’re already naturally thin–being thin becomes an obsession that takes over an anorexic person’s life. Self-worth no longer resides in their talent or personality but rather in their weight and appearance. While everyone can feel self-conscious about their body from time to time or even constantly, someone who is anorexic takes their emotional turmoil to the extreme and, in return, punishes themselves and their body for it. Therefore, on the surface anorexia may seem like it’s just about girls wanting to be skinny, but deep down it’s about girls feeling emotionally distraught.
What are some symptoms? How can I tell if someone I know is anorexic?
You probably already know that extreme thinness or excessive weight loss are symptoms of anorexia, but if that’s all you’re looking for, then you might miss something that’s happening right in front of you.
Some other symptoms include:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Bluish appearance to the skin, especially fingers
- Low tolerance of cold
- No longer menstruating
There are some other symptoms that would be tough or impossible to notice if you yourself aren’t anorexic; like thinning hair, abnormal blood count, insomnia, low blood pressure, dry skin and constipation.
There are a lot of emotional and behavioral symptoms to look out for, too. The biggest red flags should be denying hunger (especially around common eating times), skipping meals, refusing to eat when offered, having an extremely restrictive diet, lying about eating, not wanting to eat in public, having an obsession with food, exercising way too much, and complaining about being fat. Others include:
- Withdrawing from your circle of friends
- Visiting pro-anorexia sites and blogs
- Depressed mood
- Lack of interest in sex
- Generally being a big ol’ sourpuss
What causes anorexia anyway?
There isn’t a single known cause for anorexia, but much of it is psychological and environmental. It’s psychological because anorexia can pair with psychological issues like compulsive personality traits, depression and anxiety. Environmental factors refer to our environment. Anorexia’s prevalence in some cultures is attributed to beauty standards that idolize thin figures. If that sounds familiar, then rest assured that anorexia is a problem in your society. There’s a reason why girls as young as 10-years-old start dieting.
There is evidence of biological factors to anorexia as well. People who have an immediate family member with the disorder–a mother or sister, perhaps–are more likely to develop anorexia as well.
Gender plays into this disorder as well: Girls and women are more likely to be anorexic, but boys and men can be anorexic, too; let’s not call this a girl thing, okay?
Can you be anorexic and bulimic?
Absolutely. While some people erroneously believe that anorexia and bulimia are sort of opposites–the former involves a lack of food intake, the latter classically including large amounts of food intake before purging– some people do have both. For example, someone who is anorexic might go on a strict diet for weeks at a time before eating an excessive amount of food to throw it up later. If someone has a pattern of doing this, they definitely have both anorexia and bulimia. But remember, with bulimia, purging isn’t just throwing up or taking laxatives. Excessive exercise? Also a way of purging. So imagine someone who is on a strict diet, but is still hopping on the treadmill a couple of times a day to burn off the few calories they had that day. That would be anorexia and bulimia side by side.
Aren’t people with anorexia all skin and bones?
If their anorexia is prolonged enough, someone with anorexia can certainly look incredibly emaciated. But don’t assume that someone isn’t anorexic until you can easily see their entire rib cage. Nah, starvation and excessive exercise looks different on everyone and operates at different paces.
There’s something a little beautifully tragic about having anorexia though, know what I mean?
Hold up, hold up. I know that this is pretty common fodder for a lot of thinspo sites, blogs, Instagram accounts, etc, but no, there is nothing beautiful about having a mental disorder that wrecks havoc on your body and spirit. This can be tough to fight when you scroll through your Tumblr dashboard and see photos of girls with knobby knees in mini skirts or a girl wearing a pair of skinny jeans with ample thigh gap. Oh, and when these photos have some text about wanting to be perfect or how “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” on top of it, it’s especially hard to resist the beautiful sadness of it all. But there’s nothing beautiful about a disease that can kill you. No matter how many cute, whimsical gifs you see of Cassie Ainsworth–an iconic character from Skins who suffered from anorexia and famously said, “I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely”–but that’s not reality.
Anorexia is a serious disorder with serious consequences. Period. Anorexia can lead to anemia, heart problems, brittle bones, kidney issues and, ultimately, death. Yes, go to far and you can end up dead. Just keepin’ it real.
My friend is anorexic. What can I do to help her?
Support them, first and foremost. Don’t participate in any conversations that might be triggering, like calorie content or your own weight woes. Don’t lash out at your friend if they fall off the recovery wagon, even if your heart is in the right place. Suggest that they get some professional help, too; they might be afraid to take that extra leap. Most importantly, though, remember that at the end of the day they’re still that friend you can nerd out over Harry Potter and your favorite bands with. They are not their disorder, don’t forget that.
Okay, I have anorexia. What should I do?
If this post is hitting a little too close to home, then it’s time to ease your way into recovery! First, try to get as much help and support as you can. Talk to a school counselor about your ED and pluck up the courage to tell a friend who you trust and even your family if you can. If they’re supportive, your recovery process might be a little less rough. But trust, it’ll still be rough. Eating disorders are notoriously hard to conquer, but with the right professional help and healthy influences, you could be on the right track.
Of course, recovery can work in an on-again/off-again way. If you find yourself slipping into starvation mode and scouring pro-ana blogs after a month of progress, try not to beat yourself up! That won’t help! Just try to get back into the groove of health. Replace those pro-ana blogs with recovery blogs. There are tons of them on tumblr to check out, some even specifying certain demographics like LGBTQ folks that struggle, or Asian or black folks who are struggling with anorexia. Find your niche, become a part of a community, be open and honest with those who are helping you and be open and honest with yourself, too!
There’s a long road ahead of you but it isn’t an impossible one to trek!
Do you suffer from anorexia? Does your friend suffer from it? What recovery suggestions do you have? Tell us in the comments!