What to Do When Your Loved One Gets an Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders affecting people in the United States. This disorder affects both men and women. It is especially common among adolescents and young adults. When someone is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, friends and family are often confused and unsure of how they should react and what they can do to help during and after anorexia nervosa treatment. Below is some information that explains anorexia nervosa, defines the symptoms of anorexia nervosa and provides advice to friends and family members of recently diagnosed patients.

About Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a common eating disorder that usually begins in adolescence, although it can develop earlier or later in some individuals. An individual who has anorexia nervosa usually restricts their food intake significantly and/or engages in extreme amounts of exercise. Although many people with anorexia nervosa are overly thin, it is possible for an individual to have this disorder without appearing emaciated or looking sick.

To be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, patients must:

  • Be unreasonably influenced by their weight or body shape
  • Have an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight even while not weighing enough
  • Restrict their intake of energy relative to the requirements of their body, which leads to a lower than normal body weight

Patients who meet only some of these criteria may not receive an anorexia nervosa diagnosis, but they may still have an eating disorder, such as atypical anorexia. Any eating disorder will require professional treatment.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Not all people who have this disorder will experience the same symptoms of anorexia nervosa. However, some of the most common symptoms of this eating disorder include:

  • Severe restriction of food intake
  • Excessive exercise
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling in the arms and legs
  • Dehydration
  • Low body weight and/or extreme weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Fainting
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Yellow skin
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Abnormal blood counts

In addition to physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa, many people with anorexia nervosa have mood changes and behavioral changes. Examples include preoccupation with weight, preoccupation with food, wearing many layers of clothing, strange eating rituals, irritability, social withdrawal and moodiness.

Pathophysiology of Anorexia Nervosa

Researchers have not yet been able to pinpoint a specific cause of anorexia nervosa. However, it is believed that several different factors may contribute to the development of this condition. These factors include biological characteristics, psychological characteristics and the individual’s environment.

Studies have shown that an individual’s biology may play a role in the pathophysiology of anorexia nervosa. Specifically, some people may possess genes that make it more likely for them to develop this disorder. For example, genes that have been associated with perseverance and perfectionism may raise the risk of anorexia nervosa. These individuals have the characteristics they need to remain committed to continued weight loss even when extreme behaviors are required.

Psychological characteristics that may be associated with the pathophysiology of anorexia nervosa include obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism and anxiety. These traits all increase the likelihood that an individual will develop an obsession with losing weight and remaining as thin as possible, as well as have the dedication to pursue this objective even when he or she experiences negative consequences.

Environmental factors that may lead to the development of anorexia nervosa are common in Western culture. The media and general public emphasize thinness as essential to attractiveness. As a result, people living in this culture are likely to develop unrealistic ideas of how their bodies should look and how much they should weigh. This leads to both an unreasonably negative body image, unrealistic goals and peer pressure. The problem is especially pronounced among adolescent females, but may affect people of any age or gender.

About Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

If anorexia nervosa is left untreated, the complications can be severe. In some cases, anorexia nervosa can even be fatal if no action is taken. For this reason, it is essential for people who are experiencing the symptoms of anorexia nervosa to seek treatment from professionals. The goal of anorexia nervosa treatment is to help patients understand their disorder and overcome it. These programs may be outpatient or inpatient, depending on the needs and preferences of the patient. In general, residential treatment programs give patients the best chance of success because they allow them to be fully immersed in the treatment process.

Not all anorexia nervosa treatment programs operate in the same way. However, in general, most treatment programs aim to discover the underlying factors that led to an individual’s anorexia nervosa diagnosis. These treatment programs also work to discover what triggers are most problematic for each individual patient. With this information, treatment professionals are able to design an effective program that will help the patient to overcome his or her disorder. Anorexia nervosa treatment programs may also incorporate medical care to deal with any physical issues or symptoms patients have developed because of their disorders.

How Loved Ones Can Support a Patient Following Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with any eating disorder is overwhelming. When someone is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, he or is likely to experience a number of emotions. Likewise, recovering from anorexia nervosa is not easy and requires a strong commitment on the part of the patient. In order to help a loved one who has been diagnosed with this disorder, individuals need to do their best to support the person both during and after the treatment process. To provide support to a loved one with anorexia nervosa, follow these tips.

1. Don’t pass any judgment. 

Many people who have anorexia nervosa hide the symptoms of their disorder and even deny its existence altogether because they feel embarrassed or ashamed. After someone has been formally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, he or she needs to know that friends and family members will not be scolding or judgmental. Loved ones of patients should never say anything critical about the individual’s disorder, nor should they blame the individual for his or her illness.

2. Learn about the disorder and how it is treated. 

One of the best ways loved ones of patients can show their support is to take the time to learn about the disorder and the treatment program the patient will be attending. Understanding how the disorder develops and how it affects the patient helps loved ones develop more empathy and better judgment when it comes to interacting with the patient. Learning about the treatment program itself helps loved ones of patients know what to expect during the program.

3. Reach out to the individual. 

Loved ones of individuals who have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa should reach out to the person in question and let them know they have all the support they need. Being expressive with patients can reassure them as they enter the treatment process and begin to work toward their recovery. Loved ones of patients should make sure that the patient knows that he or she can rely on friends and family during this challenging time.

4. Participate in the treatment process. 

In many cases, treatment programs will encourage friends and family members to participate in treatment by providing support and/or attending counseling sessions. Friends and family members of people who have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa should always make an effort to participate in these activities when they can in order to show their support and improve the outcome of treatment for the patient.

5. Visit the patient in treatment. 

Most anorexia nervosa treatment facilities allow certain friends and family members to visit patients while they move through the treatment program. These visits from home are both encouraging and comforting to patients. They can also make the time spent in treatment seem less arduous. Family and friends should visit patients on a regular basis to show their support during treatment.

6. Don’t abandon the patient after treatment. 

After the treatment program is complete, some friends and family members of people with anorexia nervosa may mistakenly believe that their loved one is done dealing with this illness. However, as the patient moves back into his or her normal life, he or she will face triggers and challenges that may lead to relapse if they are not handled properly. For this reason, is it important for friends and family members to continue to provide support to their loved one even after he or she has completed the treatment process. This may involve providing emotional support, offering to accompany the individual to doctor’s appointments or even having difficult conversations with the individual if he or she is showing signs of relapse.

7. Take action if the loved one relapses. 

In many cases, friends and family members of people with anorexia nervosa will see the signs of relapse before the individual admits that he or she is experiencing problems. If this occurs, friends and family should be willing to talk to the individual and encourage him or her to seek professional help before the issue progresses further.

Finding the Right Eating Disorder Treatment Program

Another excellent way friends and family members can help people with anorexia nervosa involves helping them to find and enroll in the right eating disorder treatment programs. These programs are designed specifically for people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, and they will provide all of the resources the individual needs to recover from this illness.  However, not all programs that treat anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the same. These programs differ with regard to the accommodations they provide, the structure of the program, the length of the program, the approach to treatment, the location and the cost. To find the right program, friends and family members of people with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa should take the time to help their loved ones compare each of the programs available carefully. Friends and family members should keep in mind that the program that costs the least or is the closest to home may not necessarily be the best choice. The quality of treatment should always be the top priority for any patient seeking eating disorder treatment.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers provide superior eating disorder treatment for people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, as well as other eating disorders. Both residential and outpatient or day treatment programming are available at this facility. In addition, this facility also offers supervised living for patients transitioning out of residential treatment. Treatment for people with co-occurring mental health disorders is also available. This facility serves adult women. Please contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers today to learn more about the services we provide.