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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Pugle

Truths About Anorexia in 2022

A couple things you need to know about anorexia

Why this matters: Because anorexia rates are still rising and people are still dying by the hour from this, the deadliest psychiatric illness.

The COVID-19 pandemic adds another risk factor for developing anorexia and relapsing.

Anorexia nervosa is considered the deadliest mental illness because it has the highest mortality rate.

Holy sh*t moment
It's estimated that around half of survivors will be experiencing life-long illness due to ineffective and limited treatment options for anorexia.

How do people die from anorexia?

Anorexia is so much more than not eating enough in an attempt to lose weight or maintain an unsustainable weight goal. People can die from anorexia from heart attack, organ shutdown and failure, or suicide.

What happens to the body during anorexia

This is an oversimplification, but here is what happens to the body during anorexia.

When the body doesn’t receive adequate calories or adequate nutrients (ie., enough fat to fuel your organs and keep your hair from falling out), it goes into survival mode.

Your body begins pulling back on its natural healing process and, especially for youth with eating disorders, its natural rate of physical, mental, and social development.

Your body does this to conserve energy to survive starvation. It knows how to do this from a survival perspective.

This is why people with anorexia are cold because they are conserving body heat. This is why they may shake or quiver or chatter their teeth to create warmth or begin to grow 'fur-like hair' on their arms, chest, back, and face to keep warm.

Your body can't go on like this. It runs out of energy to use up and fat to convert to energy and it begins to deteriorate and decline at a faster pace.

Your body begins to pull nutrients from bones, for example, to process in order to create energy to survive. This is why bone loss is a symptom of anorexia nervosa.

At what point does this scary stuff happen?

Sooner than you may think... anorexia is a sneaky disease that often is already out of hand before anyone really begins to question if something is wrong. Part of this is due to the messed up way society glamorizes dieting, restriction, and being thin.

There is nothing glamorous about this.

Symptoms of anorexia you may not be familiar with include:

  • Sleep loss (due to hunger pangs or obsessive thoughts about calories, menus, what you ate, what you didn't eat, what you want to eat, an upcoming meal with others, an upcoming holiday where food is present, your weight, your appearance, etc.)

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Brain fog and inability to think quickly, clearly (at every age, your brain needs a certain combination of nutrients to survive let alone thrive).

  • Further hormone changes leading to more mood changes and even personality changes (anorexia is more common in type A and perfectionists)

  • Heart changes (palpitations, slowed heart rate, heart attack)

  • Severe digestive changes (painful slowly of digestive tract due to lack of food going through or lack of specific nutrient (ie., not enough fat or fiber or liquids)

  • Severe dehydration (especially at risk when you have challenges moderating exercise ie., you use exercise as a way to purge calories)

  • Menstrual loss or testosterone drop

  • Hair loss on head but hair growth on skin to provide warmth (AKA luongo)

  • Bone density loss

These symptoms can be chronic, cause lifelong problems including fertility issues and ongoing digestive problems, and relapse of behaviors and obsessions related to anorexia.

Anorexia is about more than physical symptoms

Anorexia is more the physical symptoms, and it more than experiencing anxiety and depression. It is a mental war. I wrote about this is Ana, Mia & Me: An Eating Disorder Recovery Memoir during my initial recovery from anorexia, exercise-purge and orthorexia subtypes, at the young age of seventeen.

You can read more about that in my memoir, but for now... just know that anorexia really can take over every wire in your mental circuity, so-to-say, and totally control your every thought...while giving you the impression for a long while that you are in so much control... until you're not....similar to an addiction. It is hard to kick, but not impossible. Recovery is possible, and recovering from relapse is possible.

For many people with eating disorders, relapse is a part of recovery. The future may be different...

What’s new in anorexia research and treatment these days

  • Psychedelics are showing promise in FDA clinical trials for treating anorexia

  • Psychedelic retreats in Canada for people with anorexia are an emerging industry

Some research is conducted on humans with anorexia, while other research is conducted on mice... it's an important distinction to remember...

When research is conducted on mice, I can’t help but think how much from human society that also impacts anorexia cannot be recreated in that mouse environment. Human relationships, social pressures, media, culture, living environment, etc. all play significant roles in eating disorders, too. It's not *just* about genetics and brain changes due to nutrient deficiency.

Disclaimer: If you think you can stay healthy with anorexia because you eat the healthiest types of foods, you may want to look into orthorexia. Here's an article I write about orthorexia for Verywell.


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