Anorexia

In my last post I began to tell you our story, promising to share a little bit more while also offering up facts about the different eating disorders. This post we will focus on Anorexia Nervosa.

I chose this one for a few of reasons:

  1. It seems to be the eating disorder most people have heard of.
  2. It is the deadliest of all the eating disorders.
  3. It is the one my daughter suffers with.

As I stated in my last post, my daughter began down a path that lead to her developing Anorexia Nervosa when she was eleven. Since she came out to us three years later I have gone over that time in my head, over and over. What happened? What did we do to cause this? Because like most parents when your child becomes sick, you look for answers. This was not any different in that aspect.

And since I believed it was avoidable, that I, as her mother, could have prevented it, I held myself accountable. Looking for the moment that I did something so horrible that it caused her mental illness. This is what a good mother does, right?

When she was eleven years old, we lost our house. The only place she remembered being home because we moved there when she was two years old. This loss caused us to uproot her and take her from her friends in Saint George, SC back to Summerville, SC where my parents and their business were. My husband also had a job working in Summerville at the time, so it made sense to move closer to his work. I was working in the public schools as a teacher assistant to a self-contained middle school class in a small town in the rural area of Ridgeville, SC. It was closer to Summerville than Saint George, so as far as we adults were concerned it all made sense.

We did not stop to think how much this would affect her. Oh sure, we knew she was hurting, but felt that she would rebound. That is what we adults tell ourselves, that our children are resilient, they will bounce back, they will recover. Little did we know that she was hurting far more than we realized. Especially since I moved her to the school I was working at instead of putting her in the schools closer to our new home. Maybe if I had done that she would not have been the subject of so much ridicule and teasing. Putting her in the school where I worked turned out to be much harder on her than I had thought. The Vice Principal hated me and took it out on her, making her take Physical Education class back to back all year round. Yes, she made my daughter take TWO Physical Education classes in the same day, every single day. That was two hours of constant exercise every single day of that school year. I could not get her out of it, their excuse? There were not any other classes available to put her in. That was not the only thing that woman did to her. She also singled her out, trying to find a reason to punish her. Thankfully my daughter was always a good student and the Vice Principal could not find any reason to punish her, but that did not prevent the woman from continuing to single out my daughter, try to find some reason, no matter how small, to punish her. I swear, I am not one to think of people as genuinely evil, but that woman is the closest thing to it I have ever met. Not only did my daughter have to endure this authority figure’s bullying her, but my daughter overheard the woman calling me stupid and making fun of me to my colleagues. The kind of behavior one would expect from a child bully this evidently simple-minded adult took part in.

Then because of our financial problems, my husband and I were having trouble in our marriage. So, our daughter went through a LOT that year. Looking back, I should have done things differently, I should have put her in a school closer to our new home, put her in counseling to ensure she had the tools to deal with the loss she suffered and the issues at home.

But I did not, and that is something I will always regret; not getting her help at that point in her life. Maybe it could have prevented Anorexia from casting its claws into her soul. Maybe, just maybe.

Instead, I had to find her help after the disorder took hold of her. Should have been easy, right? I mean, go to the doctor, tell them what is going on and they will get her help.

WRONG!

I, and my mom, took her to doctor after doctor, begging them to help her. To no avail. You see, South Carolina is known as the Eating Disorder Wasteland. Why? Because treatment centers are virtually non existent here. Ten years ago, there were not any in the state. NONE. Doctors did not have a clue as to how to treat these mental disorders, and one even told me to, “ship her off to a mental facility and leave her there.” Yes, those were his exact words as he stormed out of the treatment room. My mom’s mouth hung open in shock, my daughter started crying, and my blood boiled. I took her in my arms and held her as I said, “I’m not sending you off anywhere. You are my daughter. We are in this together.”

That is when I knew in order to save my child I had to educate myself with everything I could find about eating disorders. I dived into the internet, not really knowing what to look for, and that meant not knowing what sites to trust. So, I Googled experts in the field and found books written by them. I went to our local library and checked out the few books they had by one of the experts. Her books saved my daughter. Because I read them, devoured them, cover to cover, taking notes, and my husband and I came up with our own plan.

Again, there was NOT any help available to us. Not only were there not any treatment centers in our states, no psychologist or therapist would touch us because we did not have insurance. We were alone. We were drowning. And I was not about to let our daughter sink any further.

The plan we formed was one I would not recommend to anyone else. If you or a loved one need help please, please, contact the National Eating Disorder Association. If I had known of them, then I would have gone through them for help.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

According to NEDA, NIMH, and the DSM-5™, “Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and in many individuals, distorted body image. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat. Some people with the disorder also exercise compulsively, purge via vomiting and laxatives, and/or binge eat.”

Some of the signs and symptoms* of Anorexia Nervosa are:

Emotional and behavioral

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Dresses in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm
  • Is preoccupied with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refuses to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Makes frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss
  • Complains of constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, lethargy, and/or excess energy
  • Denies feeling hungry
  • Develops food rituals (e.g., eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate)
  • Cooks meals for others without eating
  • Consistently makes excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food
  • Expresses a need to “burn off” calories taken in 
  • Maintains an excessive, rigid exercise regimen – despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury 
  • Withdraws from usual friends and activities and becomes more isolated, withdrawn, and secretive
  • Seems concerned about eating in public
  • Has limited social spontaneity
  • Resists or is unable to maintain a body weight appropriate for their age, height, and build 
  • Has intense fear of weight gain or being “fat,” even though underweight
  • Has disturbed experience of body weight or shape, undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight
  • Post puberty female loses menstrual period
  • Feels ineffective
  • Has strong need for control
  • Shows inflexible thinking
  • Has overly restrained initiative and emotional expression

Physical 

  • Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting/syncope
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Sleep problems
  • Menstrual irregularities—amenorrhea, irregular periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Dry skin
  • Dry and brittle nails
  • Swelling around area of salivary glands
  • Fine hair on body (lanugo)
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair 
  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellow skin (in context of eating large amounts of carrots)
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functioning

HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF ANOREXIA NERVOSA

In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally.  Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences.

The body is generally resilient at coping with the stress of eating disordered behaviors, and laboratory tests can generally appear perfect even as someone is at high risk of death. Electrolyte imbalances can kill without warning; so can cardiac arrest. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to understand the many ways that eating disorders affect the body.

*taken from the NEDA website.

Treatments vary and what works for one person may not work for another. That is why, I again beg you if you or a loved one are in the grips of an eating disorder please, please, please find help.

You can check with your doctor, or if that doesn’t work contact NEDA for a list of treatment facilities near you.

Our story is far from over, and I will continue it in my next post.

Please leave a comment and share this post. Together we can bring about awareness. More awareness equals more treatment options to those who are in need.

Thank you.

4 thoughts on “Anorexia

  1. I didn’t know it was so hard to find help for an eating disorder. You must have felt like you were floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

  2. Thank you, I hope people listen
    and get help.

  3. I can imagine it is incredibly hard to be a parent of a child with an eating disorder. Especially when you’re desperate in seeking help! I hope your daughter has some support now – if not, please do not hesitate to contact us. I am one of two women who recovered from anorexia at our own strength and if we can help anyone else in the same situation, we would be very happy to do so. Best wishes, Julia

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