Rapid weight loss, bad eating habits as well as being drastically underweight can all put a person's health at risk. (Photo:

Anorexia is an eating disorder that can influence a person’s life in a dangerous und durable manner. The emotional, social and physical side effects can be very significant, and some of them cannot be reversed. The faster and earlier something is done to prevent any further negative impact, the better the chances are to overcome anorexia. This is why it is all the more important to address any thought eventually leading to anorexia and to ask for help, as soon as a tendency indicating anorexia is suspected.

Facts about anorexia

What is anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder in which a person eats as little as possible and wants to weigh as little as possible. Most people with anorexia are underweight, but there are also “normal-weight” people that show behavioural traits that are characteristic of anorexia. Such behaviours are known as “atypical anorexia”. People with anorexia sometimes also take laxatives or other substances that induce vomiting. The difference with bulimia lies in the fact that people with bulimia are typically not underweight.

Who is anorexic?

Anorexia often begins during puberty, but it can also affect women who are somewhat older. There are also an increasing number of boys and young men who become anorexic.

What triggers anorexia?

Each person with anorexia has his or her own story. Typically, however, the need to control food intake as well as weight reflects the desire to keep the control over oneself and one’s life – especially in areas where one feels most challenged. People with anorexia often want to stand on their own feet and assert themselves – for example against one’s parents – but feel rather helpless and dependant.

Why should the body be so thin?

Parting with childhood and taking in the changes the body is going through on its way to adulthood, this can all be quite overwhelming, and some people never quite manage to feel at ease in their body their whole life through. An underweight body can convey the image of a body still in childhood, and can express an aversion against becoming a man or a woman. It also reflects the impression of being no one, or of being worthless or unimportant. Inversely, it can also manifest the wish to be noticed and to stand out from the crowd.

Why is anorexia dangerous?

Rapid weight loss, bad eating habits as well as being drastically underweight are all risky. Not only does anorexia make a person moody or vulnerable, but it also affects all organs – in fact, every organ looses weight, even the brain. At a certain stage, it can become difficult to think in a coherent manner. Consequences on the metabolic and circulatory system are particularly pernicious. About 10% of all people with anorexia die from it, mostly from starvation, suicide, or electrolyte imbalances.

What are the long-term effects of anorexia?

In most cases, the menstrual cycle is affected (but this will be noticed only if no hormonal contraception method is taken). In young people, the psychosexual development is also under pressure, resp. delayed. As soon as the weight becomes normal again, however, the menstrual cycle re-establishes itself. Bones are at risk of being affected a whole life long, especially if the anorexia episode occurred during a period of growth. Osteoporosis is then a real long-term consequence.

What can be done:

If you suspect you many be anorexic, go to a resource centre specialised in eating disorders. The earlier the better, even if you are not yet underweight.

  • Listen to the people around you: frequent comments on your controlled eating habits and your low weight can be a sign that other people see what you are not yet willing to admit.
  • If you resist asking for professional support, because you fear you may be putting on weight again, this could be a sign that you indeed need professional support. These people know how to help you deal with your fears.
  • When the people around you constantly do things to please you, this could also indicate that you are using your eating behaviour to manipulate others. Professionals will be able to help you dealing with other people in a more self-aware manner.
  • If you think that your weight and your eating habits are all that you are able to control, it is high time for you to go and request professional help, in order for you to regain real control over your life.
  • If you feel the need to withdraw always more from other people, the anorexia may become very risky. It keeps on becoming more important, and you become impoverished. Professional people can really help you out of this situation.
  • Go regularly to your physician. Physical side effects induced by your eating habits, as well as a rapid weight loss, can become very risky for you. Resource centres can recommend appropriate specialists who can help you.
  • Look for opportunities to experience your body in a positive manner. This is the best way to find your way back into life. A body therapy can also be very helpful.

Text: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ess-Störungen (Resource centre for eating disorders)
Translation: MyH – 11/16