In today’s society, there is a lot of pressure on people to look a certain way. Social media and advertisements have only amplified this focus. The desire to control one’s weight can quickly spiral into an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, or other conditions. Some anorexia nervosa statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health show that approximately 0.6% of adults will struggle with this condition at some point in their life. While this may not seem significant, when it is someone you love who is affected, it can be life-altering.
Recognizing the signs of anorexia nervosa can allow you to support a loved one in getting the help they need for recovery before their condition becomes more severe. Without professional intervention, anorexia and substance use can go hand-in-hand as individuals strive to control their weight and the effects of having an eating disorder. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse estimates that as many as half of those with eating disorders also misuse drugs or alcohol, and around 35 percent of those with substance use disorders have eating disorders as well.
The Early Symptoms
It can be easy to confuse the early signs of anorexia with those of dieting. This is often how people downplay their condition or justify cutting back their food intake. But the body needs a certain number of calories and a multitude of vitamins and nutrients to function, so limiting eating can become fatal making the need for treatment for anorexia nervosa even more critical.
Refusal to Eat or Skipping Meals
Individuals with anorexia may refuse to eat around others or choose to skip meals. They may claim they’ve already eaten or that they’re not hungry to minimize concern. However, skipping multiple meals a day can quickly become dangerous.
Minimal Food and Drink Consumption
When an individual does eat, they may limit how much they’re eating. It may be just enough to quell the grumbling of their stomach to appease friends or family. They often fill up on water instead of food, or carefully push things around on their plate to make it look like they’ve consumed more than they have.
Small Food Selection
Individuals with anorexia nervosa may also be very selective about what foods they eat. They often choose things with low calories but that may not have much nutritional value either. Onlookers may just think it’s a phase that they only eat certain foods.
The Overt Symptoms
Aside from strict or controlled eating, there are other signs as well that may alert you to the need to get a loved one treatment for anorexia nervosa.
Drastic Weight Loss and Attempts to Hide It
Baggy clothes can be a distraction to hide how much weight someone has lost. They may wear layers or clothes that are not appropriate for the season or weather – for instance, wearing a sweatshirt in the summer. Weight loss can happen quickly if they make extreme changes to their diet, which can be dangerous.
Increased Sensitivity to Stimuli
Due to increased weight loss and loss of body fat, the body often becomes more sensitive to changes in temperature. A loved one may be constantly cold and grow a layer of very fine hair as their body attempts to keep itself warm in the absence of body fat.
Drastic Health Changes
Poor diet and nutrition can also have other health consequences such as a weakened immune system. Individuals may be more tired and lethargic than usual because their body doesn’t have enough food to turn into energy. They may become dizzy as blood sugar drops, or start losing hair due to vitamin deficiencies. You may also notice signs of alcoholism or drug addiction if they have developed a substance use disorder too and require co-occurring disorders treatment.
A Change in Behavior
Preoccupied with Body Image
Outside of physical symptoms, individuals with anorexia are often highly focused on how they look. They’re always concerned about their weight, what they see as “problem areas,” and how they compare to others. To others, they may look perfectly fine, but in their mind, they always can always be thinner.
A Change in Clothes
It may become more noticeable that a loved one’s clothes do not fit as well, or that they’re wearing baggier items or long sleeves and long pants even when it’s hot out. If their sense of style has drastically changed, it can be a red flag that issues run deeper than just trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends.
Substance Use/Co-Occurring Disorders
Drugs or alcohol may be used as a quick way to help drop weight or limit weight gain. These substances can also affect appetite making individuals not feel hungry even though their body needs food. Having a dual diagnosis is not something to be taken lightly; it requires co-occurring disorders treatment to address both eating disorders and substance misuse simultaneously in order to support recovery. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 27 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa also have a substance use disorder.
It doesn’t necessarily take much for dieting to become more extreme and develop into anorexia nervosa. This is a serious condition that can quickly spiral out of control without professional treatment. If you notice the signs of anorexia in a friend or loved one, urge them to seek treatment for anorexia nervosa at a recovery center such as Crossroads which also specializes in co-occurring disorders treatment. Early detection can help individuals to regain control of their lives and overcome anorexia, substance misuse, and other dual diagnosis issues. Turn to Crossroads today for support in getting a loved one treatment.Don’t let anorexia nervosa or co-occurring disorders go untreated. If you are concerned about a loved one, contact Crossroads today.