When you think of anorexia (anorexia nervosa), someone who is abnormally thin and/or barely eats might come to mind. There is much more to it than that though.
Anorexia and mental health go hand in hand.
While this is often true, there are many more health effects associated with this particular eating disorder. Particularly, the negative effects on mental health.
Anorexia Nervosa is one of the most deadly out of the twelve known eating disorders.
While no eating disorder is “better” than another, others are not nearly as harmful in the long run as anorexia can be.
Obviously, the short term effects are ultimately less serious although they should not be ignored or go untreated.
These effects would include weight and hair loss, intestinal issues and daily symptoms such as weakness and fatigue.
While serious, these conditions can be treated and ultimately reversed in a relatively short time.
The individual may return to full health relatively quickly if their diet/exercise routines are corrected.
The more serious, lasting negative health effects include organ damage and even heart failure.
Malnourishment can affect everything physically as you are ultimately killing yourself slowly by cutting off your “fuel” supply.
It’s important to seek help and treatment as soon as the disorder is recognized, however, many people who suffer with anorexia seldom do (compared to the number of cases).
This is typically for a number of reasons ranging from shame, denial or the belief that other responsibilities take priority. Unfortunately, not taking it seriously and seeking help early on results in catastrophic effects.
Another result of malnutrition is the expedited development of other underlying disorders such as anxiety and depression.
This happens because the brain cannot function properly without proper nutrition and chemical imbalances will occur.
This dangerous combination can lead to more serious outcomes including self-harm and potentially suicide. It’s important to seek help as soon as you feel something may not be right.
Much of the time, people are unaware of other factors (previously existing anxiety disorder) that could make their eating disorder more risky than it already is.
Aside from the individual’s physical health and well-being at risk and declining, mental health also is affected.
At a glance, someone suffering with anorexia might be seen as superficial. You might know someone who barely eats or is very picky about what they eat.
They might be underweight or close to it and it can be easy to judge. It’s important to understand the unhealthy (and false) beliefs behind the development of this disorder.
Each case is unique to the individual and can be very complex.
People’s upbringing, childhood experiences, genetic personality traits, environment and personal beliefs can all play a role in this among other variables.
As anorexia is developing, there are psychological changes that take place as well. For example, when a negative relationship with food is formed, it’s usually from some sort of false belief.
Mental health can be the cause of anorexia just as much as anorexia can be the cause of developing mental health disorders.
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When mental health is the cause of developing anorexia…
Negative Body Image
This could be a negative body image where one thinks they are overweight and refuse to eat certain things or are intense with their calorie count.
They might believe that “being fat” means it’s hard to find love. If a loving relationship is what their goal is, they might punish themselves by unhealthy levels of restriction.
It’s also common for someone suffering with anorexia to be very strict with their exercising. This has been known to be the case with individuals who will work out to “make up” for the calories they ate.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a balanced diet and a good amount of exercise.
If someone you know feels the need to always burn as many calories as they consume, they may have an eating disorder.
It’s all about the individual’s relationship with food. No one would say they “hate food”. But behavior is key.
If they speak badly about it, avoid it or blame it for things, there’s a relationship issue here. It’s not food’s fault. It’s the negative (false) beliefs about food.
For example…”I won’t eat carbs because they make me fat.” While moderation is important, the belief that any carbs at all will make you fat is false.
Obviously dieting to reach a healthier weight and avoiding carbs for a time is a reasonable exception. The point is, that is individuals are “hating on” food, there could be an issue.
Developing anorexia can be true for someone who is overweight just as with someone who is severely underweight.
Cases where obese patients have reported having an eating disorder like this has become more prevalent.
If this is the case, your body believes it is starving. Since we’re “programmed” to do everything we can to survive, the body will start storing fat as a back-up energy source.
The metabolism slows down and the overweight individual experiencing anorexia might not lose weight for some time because of this. Obviously, this will have its own separate set of health complications.
This is another key reason why it’s so important not to judge someone based on their appearance.
Imagine you’re unhealthy, overweight and extremely self-conscious. You develop an eating disorder because of the anxiety you have and are still unable to lose weight! You feel hopeless and alone and your mind has turned against you. On top of that people judge you everywhere you go and you start to believe you’re worthless.
The thought of this is so sad but that’s the unfortunate reality for some people!
Low Opinion of Self-worth
This can stem from a variety of sources – usually relating to childhood trauma or neglect.
Unfortunately, by a young age, our brains settle on a pattern of beliefs and for the most part, everything else we act on or believe is based on those experiences (in some way) going forward.
If a child is punished for speaking out or showing “difficult” emotions such as anger or frustration, they will most likely develop the belief that in order to receive love or not have bad things happen to them, they need to hide those kinds of feelings.
Personally, I’ve had to unravel my own beliefs in this area. Undoing years of “hard-wired” thoughts and beliefs is difficult but well worth it.
You can see how easily an eating disorder such as anorexia might develop after years of underlying issues with self-esteem/self-worth.
Back to self-worth. If unworthiness is something you struggle with, it’s important to dig down and try to understand why.
Approaching the disorder from a place of love and understanding instead of beating yourself up about it is key. It’s not your fault that you developed an eating disorder.
What I find so interesting is that most mental or behavioral disorders I read about typically all have one common starting point.
Our minds are absolutely amazing! When we’re in pain our brain frantically searches for relief which usually lands us with the limiting thoughts/beliefs that we build the disorder on.
Understanding this not only helps eliminate any guilt/shame, but helps you better understand yourself. Getting treatment should be both mental and physical (visit a doctor/nutritionist and talk with a therapist).
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Genetic Personality Traits
Case and point to not being the individual’s fault. Some of the time, personality traits inherited from our parents play a key role in the development of an eating disorder such as anorexia.
These traits include the need for perfection, and general anxiety. If one or both of your parents instilled a sense of urgency in you due to their own anxiety, the beliefs around your urgency combined with your own anxiety can cause anorexia to develop.
While this happens, perfectionism is usually more of a contributing factor. It’s important to note that this can look different per individual.
Self-esteem, self-worthiness and other beliefs in one’s self affect the development of this as well.
An interesting point mentioned in this article is that due to the chemical imbalance, people with anorexia do not experience pleasure as most of us do.
The imbalance essentially distorts their ability to enjoy themselves as they’re always conscious of consequences and thinking ahead.
While there is a healthy level of awareness (your conscience), the level of awareness/urgency with someone with anorexia affects them on a daily basis.
It’s part of who they are on a level that most never understand. I can see how inherited personality traits can play a strong role in the development of this eating disorder.
Imagine you have perfectionist tendencies AND you’re hyper-aware of consequences as opposed to being present. This kind of thinking is different from self-control around healthy eating. I’m sure the two are confused often.
When anorexia is the cause of mental health issues/disorders…
We briefly touched on this a minute ago. When you suffer from anorexia, you’re malnourished which results in brain damage.
The effects of this will manifest as someone who does not have a good sense of themselves. They may be unable to pinpoint how they feel at any given moment and just “out of touch” with who they are as an individual.
This is also true about how they see themselves physically. When they see a picture of themselves, they do not see what others might think.
This goes deeper than just being picky about the angle of your selfies. When a person is suffering from anorexia, they will be unable to see themselves as worthy and whole which literally changes the way they see themselves.
They’ll be extremely critical of themselves. The common example – they might already be skinny but think they need to lose weight.
Development of Depression
When someone is living with anorexia they are forced into a state of anxiety. Anorexia can also be the cause of depression and vice versa.
Someone with an anorexia eating disorder is much more likely to develop both anxiety and depression.
These two mental health disorders are commonly diagnosed together in cases of anorexia.
It’s important to acknowledge the mental health disorders that are present with anorexia in order to have successful treatment.
The development of depression with anorexia is not uncommon. Individuals with anorexia often experience shame and guilt which leads them to self isolation.
Aside from the physical mental effects (chemical imbalances), isolation can lead to depression on it’s own. You can see how one disorder can easily build off of another very quickly.
It’s so important to get help if anything like this sounds familiar.
You may feel like you have it under control but chemical imbalances and neglecting your physical health aren’t to be taken lightly.
Here is an article that I found helpful with understanding how mental health and anorexia are related.
There is so much incorrect information out there around how eating disorders are developed and who can develop them.
If you’re unfamiliar with eating disorders and would like to learn more about common myths, check out this article.
In conclusion, each individual’s experience living with anorexia can be different. It’s important to be aware of the mental health causes and effects that usually go hand in hand with it.
Being understanding and supportive toward someone struggling with anorexia is an important part of helping them toward recovery.
The more aware everyone is, the better we can assist those who are willing to receive help. I’m thankful that we live in an age where mental health is becoming normalized and people aren’t as hesitant to discuss it!
If you are struggling with anorexia or any other mental/eating disorder please reach out and talk to someone. People care about you and you deserve a happy and healthy life!
As previously mentioned, here is my discount link to sign up for online therapy (plus the “extras” toolbox) at 20% off! GET HELP ONLINE 20% OFF
Thanks for sticking around to learn more about anorexia and your mental health! I hope it can help you or someone you love achieve their mental health goals and live a healthy, fulfilled life.
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