Anorexia and Lasting Health Complications
Updated: Mar 4
You deserve to know what's really at stake
I want you to know the truth about living with anorexia nervosa. I want you to know what I didn’t know for far too long. I want you to know that you deserve to seek support for disordered eating and anorexia recovery at any weight, size, and budget.
The hard truth
Anorexia is still associated with weight loss and extreme thinness. These two things are not exclusive to anorexia and are also idolized in the health and wellness industry.
Weight loss and waist size are but a small part of the story, here, though. The truth is, anorexia can cause health complications ate any stage and at any weight and size.
No matter what your outward appearance suggests, your current and future health status is at stake when you live with anorexia nervosa which includes severe stress and fears around weight gain, and actions and steps and behaviours aimed at maintaining a certain weight or losing weight.
Being underweight is unhealthy
Since our society still equates thinness with healthiness, it may be surprising to learn that being underweight is actually considered more dangerous to health by leading experts than being overweight.
Also bear in mind this "over" and "under" is based on really problematic measures of health wrapped up in the BMI scale. I mention it, though, because this is what doctors are still using to "measure" health.
Being underweight, according to Healthline, can contribute to all of the following:
nutritional deficiencies including vitamin deficiencies or mineral deficiencies like anemia (low iron)
osteoporosis from too little vitamin D and calcium
compromised immune system
increased risk for injury or complications from surgery
fertility issues caused by hormone changes and irregular menstrual cycles
growth and development issues, especially in youth
Being underweight can be a particularly dangerous part of anorexia, but health complications can also come from losing and gaining weight at any size, detoxes and cleanses aimed at losing weight, losing weight at an unhealthy pace (ie., too quickly), and going into cycles of trying to eat "normally" again but feeling as though you "must" compensate with calorie restriction or other methods of compensation out of fear of gaining weight and then trying to increase your efforts to lose weight or maintain a low weight.
In recovery from anorexia (orthorexia and exercise purging subtypes), and in my career as a freelance researcher, writer, and lived experiences author and blogger, I have learned a lot about the real health and mental health dangers of living with anorexia (especially when living with anorexia prior to treatment or during relapse).
Here are some important truths I wish someone had told me in my early recovery days. This is not to scare you, but to start an important and necessary conversation about the benefits of treatment, recovery, and healing from anorexia.
Knowledge is power, but...I know as well as anyone else that having knowledge doesn't always mean you will know what to do with it. If this article is stirring up feelings about your own experience, and you're not sure what to do next, please consider reaching out for support at the National Eating Disorders Association or the Nationali Eating Disorder Information Centre in Canada.
Truths about dieting and anorexia
Here is a list of things I wish I had known earlier or that I was able to understand earlier on in my recovery journey. These are not scare tactics; they are hard truths about what's at stake in maintaining disordered eating through dieting and experiencing anorexia.
Weight-focused diets encourage weight loss with calorie restrictions.
Most calorie restrictive diets do not provide enough nutrients for healthy bodily functioning.
Not eating enough or drinking enough or being underfed and dehydrated can worsen and contribute to digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Health problems can happen sooner than may be expected and may not always be obvious.
Trying to maintain anorexia is life threatening.
Experiencing anorexia is considered a traumatic experience and can cause traumatic stress injury.
Treatment should include access to nutritional health services for help with the recovery process, which is about more than weight restoration but also learning how to eat again or for the first time.
Being underweight starves your internal organs including your brain and heart.
People with anorexia are more likely to die of stroke or heart disease.
People with anorexia are at increased risk of suicide.
Being underweight can cause high levels of cortisol, cholesterol, and mess with your hormones in ways that can harm fertility.
All of this can happen while following popular weight loss diets … diets are a top risk factor in eating disorder development.
Binge eating can and often is part of the recovery from starvation mode process (it was for me).
You don’t have to be any certain weight category to be considered sick enough to seek support. I was obsessed with checking my weight against BMI to see if I was “sick enough…”
You are sick enough if you’re reading this and relating to my words.
Your weight will fluctuate and your body will change over the years in unexpected and potentially triggering ways (even if you don’t experience pregnancy or ever have biological children).
Recovery often includes relapse but the goal is to just keep getting back to recovery mode every moment you can.
You can use writing, drawing, colouring, and self-expression exploration to help you cope with anorexia and recovery. This is not wasted time; it is therapeutic.
Recovery takes persistence
Traits like perfectionism and compulsive or obsessive tendencies are common to people with anorexia. These will need to identified, recognized, and managed. I learned how to do this in cognitive behavioural therapy and practiced wit writing and other art therapy. I wrote about this in my book "The Work: Best Lessons Learned From Trauma-Informed Therapy" available on Amazon and in the shop.
You can begin recovery from anorexia at any stage and any age. I wrote this article not to scare you but to show you what is at stake. If you're currently experiencing a relapse, please know you can return to recovery at any moment. There is no expiry on the tools available to us. Hope for recovery is real.
Talk Suicide Canada hotline: call 1.833.456.4566 or text 45645
Online eating disorder screening tool here.