There is much consensus among those in the eating disorder recovery field that eating disorders and issues of disordered eating are on the rise. There are many potential causes for this, ranging from social media misinformation to the COVID-19 pandemic to a lack of mental health resources. One of the most prominent eating disorders currently affecting individuals in the U.S. and abroad is anorexia nervosa. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recently reported that “The lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa in adults was 0.6%.” For context, that is roughly two million people in the U.S. alone. That is also two million individuals that deserve to know the best treatment options for anorexia nervosa.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Regarding eating disorders, it is critical to remember that they are similar but never the same. “Eating disorder” is merely a category for a wide variety of types of different eating disorders and disordered eating. 

In their overview, Eating Disorders, Doctors Balasundaram and Santhanam define the umbrella category of eating disorders as “the disruption in the eating behavior with excessive concern about body weight that impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning.” This is a critical but very broad definition of eating disorders. Understanding anorexia nervosa requires one to delve a bit deeper.

According to the NIMH:

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a significant and persistent reduction in food intake leading to extremely low body weight in the context of age, sex, and physical health; a relentless pursuit of thinness; a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight; and extremely disturbed eating behavior.

It is also important to note that anorexia nervosa is not merely about “avoiding food” but rather about this “distortion of body image.” As the NIMH states, ”Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight, even when they are starved or severely malnourished.”

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Many people often mistake anorexia nervosa with two other prominent eating disorders. These are bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. This is understandable; they share many of the same characteristics, such as “purging,” uncontrollable guilt, and unreasonable shame. However, anorexia nervosa is very specific in that an individual struggling with it will experience extreme weight loss, which is also one of the most defining factors.

Spotting the warning signs and symptoms may be the first step toward finding the best treatment options for anorexia nervosa. You have to detect an issue before you can begin to address it. The following are just a few of the warning signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

  • An individual will begin to show extreme and excessive weight loss

  • They may express a fear of gaining weight 

  • An individual may start to become deceptive about their eating habits and make excuses for skipping meals

  • Some individuals with anorexia nervosa will attempt to purge after meals in order to lose weight 

  • They may take on extreme dieting and exercise routines in order to lose and maintain weight loss

  • An individual may become “ritualistic” around their eating habits, such as cutting their food into very specific pieces and chewing their food a certain number of times

  • They may appear pale in complexion and start to experience brittle nails and hair loss

If any of these symptoms appear and persist, we here at be Collabortive Care highly recommend reaching out to an eating disorder and recovery professional for help. They can help guide you toward the best treatment options for anorexia nervosa.

The Best Treatment Options for Anorexia Nervosa

One of the first things to remember about eating disorders and disordered eating is that struggling with these issues is not a choice. That is why when considering the best treatment options for anorexia nervosa, it is important to incorporate a therapy that is going to help the individual understand that struggling with an eating disorder is not their fault and certainly not something they “did to themselves.” It is a mental health disorder that requires mental health treatment.

Therapy and psychotherapy are some of the best treatment options for anorexia nervosa because they can help get to the underlying emotional and cognitive issues that cause the disordered eating behaviors. These therapies may include individual cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or group therapy, where individuals can begin to gain strength and recover through their shared experiences.

Nutrition Therapy at BeCollaborative Care

At be Collaborative Care, we believe in helping our clients rediscover the joy of food. Our nutrition and dietary specialists help our clients understand nutrition while at the same time supporting them through effective meal planning and rebuilding their perspectives about food.

According to the National Comorbidity Survey reported by the NIMH, only one-third of individuals with anorexia nervosa in their study sought treatment for their disorder. Based on those earlier population statistics, that is over 1.3 million people struggling with this disorder. Our mission is to radically reduce that number, and we do so by helping one individual heal at a time. We don’t get discouraged by statistics. No, we get to work.

Anorexia nervosa is currently the most prominent eating disorder in the U.S. today. It affects millions of people daily, yet there is still a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding it. For example, anorexia nervosa is much more complex than simply “not eating,” and it should never be confused with other eating disorders. Garnering the correct knowledge about anorexia nervosa can be the first step toward getting help. If you feel like you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, please know that you are not alone. We can help. For more information on anorexia nervosa and the best treatment options for long-term recovery, contact be Collaborative Care at (401) 262-0842.