Most cases of eating disorders can be treated successfully by trained mental health care professionals. Treatments do not work instantly, however; it may take time to shift habits and thinking. The key to understanding anorexia, and other eating disorders, is that it’s not about food or food intake. It’s a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional problems. When you have anorexia, you often equate thinness with self-worth.
It is estimated that 1.0% to 4.2% of women have suffered from anorexia in their lifetime.
Approaches may vary, depending on severity of the disease, as well as personal choices.
Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS worked with Dr. Philip Mehler to open up the nation’s only medical stabilization program for patients with severe anorexia nervosa, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders at Denver Health.
“My personal philosophy on the way I treat my own patients is to bring an authentically loving, enthusiastic, evidence-based, and straight-talking manner to the bedside. I believe strongly as an internist in emphasizing the ways each patient’s body is responding poorly to starvation or purging, in order to motivate change,” Gaudiani says of her own approach.
She emphasizes empowering the patients own healthy voice with responses based on objective evidence.
For those struggling with anorexia, it serves a number of functions. Uncovering those functions, or emotional needs, and discovering healthier ways for you to fulfill them is imperative to successful treatment and rehabilitation. Restricting your food intake gives you a sense of empowerment and control in life, when it may feel unattainable otherwise.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Diagnostic criteria for Anorexia Nervosa from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V) is as follows:
- Restriction of energy intake relative to requirement, leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
- Intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight
- Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
Accompanying personality traits include:
- Sensitivity to reward and punishment, harm avoidance
- Obsessive thinking
- Neuroticism (emotional instability and hypersensitivity)
- Rigidity and excessive persistence
When asked about contributing factors to those with anorexia, Kait Fortunato Greenberg, RD, CEDRD, Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian at Begin Within Center, cited particular ones she’d seen directly in her own work, which include genetics, cultural factors, dieting, and physiological co-morbidities. “Often times an eating disorder presents with other co-morbidities, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and high stress, and it is important for recovery that these be treated in addition to treating the eating disorder,” she says. “Treatment is most effective when clients get nourished properly and weight restored and work through the mental aspect of the disease with therapy and psychology.”
Addressing all aspects of this disorder — mental, emotional, and physical — in equal part is critical. However, there is misinformation out there, too. Below are some myths about anorexia:
Myths About Anorexia
Myth: Skinny Models Are the Problem.
Beautiful, thin people get a lot of attention, and they become the ideal for a lot of young women. But while images of dangerously thin women in the media play a role in promoting anorexia, they’re just one of many factors — and probably not the most important one.