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Anorexia and Starvation

15th May 2015

Anorexia nervosa is defined as an “emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat”. The origin of the word “anorexia” comes from the Latin/Greek terminology from an meaning “without”, and orexis meaning “appetite”. Many people believe that the term “anorexia” relates to the fear of food and weight gain present in many cases of anorexia, however surprisingly fear of food and fear or weight gain are two separate phobias; Cibophobia being the fear of food, and Obesophobia being the fear or weight gain. While suffers generally suffer from both of these at some point during the illness, it is also important to highlight that it is often also the case that only one, or neither of these phobias are present in a sufferer. I will explain this further later on in this blog post.

So how does an eating disorder begin? This is often the question asked to sufferers by many therapists during their treatment. Eating disorders are generally triggered by an emotional, or stressful event in someone’s life. A point at which they feel “out of control” and so use food in order to regain some control over their lives, because after all we can chose how much to eat, and whether or not to eat or exercise right? It is therefore important to know, that an eating disorder can happen to any person, from any background and from all different walks of life. It does not discriminate, or pick and chose its “victims”; each individual case will differ from one person to another. This is because the need to regain control over ones life can become extremely addictive.

This is also where cibophobia and obesophia can come into play. In modern times, there is a terrible amount of pressure placed on young men and women to be slim and “perfect” in the eyes of society. Overweight people are often ridiculed for their weight, thus creating negativity around being such a size. “Junk food” is often to blame for such rapid weight gain in individuals, and so many anorexia sufferers become “fearful” of any food deemed unhealthy due to this negative connotation around such foods. The pressure on individuals to exercise can also drive an anorexic to exercise in order to influence their weight. As “fear foods” are cut out, calorie intake can be reduced dramatically. Coupled with excessive exercise a persons weight can drop rapidly, sending them into a mentally torturous state of restriction, misery and fear. It is no wonder that eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rate out of all mental illness, not just from dramatic weight loss but also from suicide from a sufferer looking for a way out.

In the years of 1944 and 1945, Ancel Keys and his colleagues conducted the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, where 36 men were chosen who had no pervious experience of mental health difficulties. Over a period of a few months, their calorie intake was restricted to nearly half of its original intake. They were also instructed to exercise on a daily basis to induce the weight loss. The effects of such weight loss would then be recorded in not only a physical sense, but also mentally. The result of the experiment showed that the once healthy men, became extremely depressed, withdrawn, preoccupied with food, decline in sexual interest, concentration and there was a dramatic decrease in their basal metabolic rate (the energy required by the body whilst resting). It was also noted that as they began to reefed the participants, many experienced fears of “losing control” over how much they were eating, and most surprisingly weight gain. It can therefore be seen that many symptoms presented in those with anorexia nervosa, are actually symptoms of starvation and further reinforces the notion that an eating disorder can affect any individual at any time in their lives, and does not necessarily BEGIN with a fear of weight gain and food.

It is also important to note that many of these symptoms reduced over the months after beginning the rehabilitation phase.

So what’s my story? Since the age of 2, any stresses and emotional turmoil I experienced was taken out on food. It was at this age that my parents divorced; a traumatic time for any child. I began to “go off” of a lot of food and became an extremely fussy eater until recently. I have always been underweight for the majority of my life despite the amount or what I eat, as this is simply how I am built. Throughout my school life, I was bullied by the “popular” group of girls, completely destroying any self-confidence I did have, I also experienced some extremely emotional turmoil within the family whilst this was occurring. This was taken out on food and I did go through a period of not eating my lunches, and throwing my dinner on the floor for the cat to eat. I was a child in distress and this was the only way I knew how to deal with this.

At the age of 15 I then entered into my first serious relationship. This was extremely on and off for over 5 years, as he was unable to decide whether or not he wanted to be with me. Every 6 months he would decide I simply wasn’t trying “hard enough”, despite losing all my friends and neglecting my family to please him and give him the attention I was accused of denying him. Each time we split, I would go 3 weeks without eating and barely drinking, and whenever he came back I would jump at the chance to be with him again. I became very lonely, and fearful that at any point he could leave again and I would have no one. In December of 2012 I began to suffer with what felt like a never-ending succession of water infections. Unable to find the cause, I was left experiencing excruciating pain for a two week period every two weeks or so. As I was unable to fulfill my “duty” as a girlfriend, I became very fearful that he would once again leave, and so ended up putting myself through hell in order to please him and give him the attention he wanted. This did eventually take its toll on my body and mind. I desperately wanted to be “healthy” again and so began exercising and eating what I felt at the time was a “healthy” diet. What I did not realize was that I was not becoming any healthier and that I was actually slowly starving myself. Ultimately, my boyfriend did leave stating that I had made him depressed and he simply couldn’t “cope” with my illnesses. I then began restricting my intake further and exercising more to become the “best” that I could be in order to win him back. I did not succeed in this however I no longer feel sad about this. I am glad he did not come back into my life after this final time as I now realized that I was in an extremely emotionally abusive and was manipulated on a daily basis. This was no relationship; it was more like a power contest of who could control who the most.

Over the months after this, my weight dropped lower at a much faster rate. Many anorexics would have loved this, and that they were “winning”. I however hated the weight loss. I hated my body, and I hated that I could see no way out of it. I dropped below the “extreme” anorexia BMI mark and was admitted to a hospital in London a few months ago. After a few weeks with more food, my exercise compulsion, preoccupation with timings and food and the misery I was experiencing has all but vanished. I no longer feel guilt when eating and actually become excited for each meal and being able to try new things. I am no longer a fussy eater, and although I have only been in “real recovery” for 2 months, I am already extremely close to becoming weight restored.

I have met many amazing nurses and doctors whilst in hospital, and have also been able to meet other sufferers and realize how different each person’s eating disorder is. Food and weight gain can be scary, but the feeling is only temporary. It has been proven to me that eating something unhealthy WILL NOT make you gain weight overnight, not exercising WILL NOT kill you. What will kill you is an eating disorder, as it pulls you into restriction, misery and fear the lower your weight becomes.

I would like to speak to all girls who are currently suffering with whether or not to recover. Recovery is worth it, life is worth it, what isn’t worth it is beating yourself up and abusing your body for things you cannot control. You do not need to control every aspect of your life.

I never used to believe this myself whenever I heard it before beginning treatment, but I can honestly say I believe it now. Recovery IS NOT meant to be easy, but it is so worth it.

Watch this space for my experience of an inpatient setting.

Katrina xx