Dr. Jean Wilkins, a specialist in anorexia, heads the eating disorders clinic at the CHU Sainte-Justine. I’ll summarize the work of Dr. Wilkins on anorexia, and his point of view. This will help us better understand an anorexic person’s behavior.
Many anorexia sufferers are teenagers. The most frequent eating disorder among teenagers is anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that occurs when a person refuses to eat an adequate amount of food or is unable to maintain the minimal weight for a person’s body mass index. Few anorexic teenagers reach out for help on their own. Parents, teachers and others in the teen’s circle have to be vigilant in looking for symptoms of anorexia, then get the teen the help they need. The teen is in a growth period.
All restrictive eating behavior, accompanied by an obvious slimming and amenorrhea (when a woman misses her period one or more times), should be considered suspect.
How does Anorexia Begin?
Anorexia nervosa begins when a vulnerable person feels a particular sensation when they take control over their diet, and intentionally restrict their own eating. Anorexia often starts when a teenager is a victim of hurtful words.
Teenage victims of anorexia nervosa have a lot in common with addicts. For some, anorexia is a way of slowing down the puberty process. For others, they feel an impasse in the separation/individualisation process. Anorexia becomes a way to delay certain aspects of their own development.
Symptoms of Anorexia
Beyond restricting their diet, anorexics also have a tendency to isolate themselves and take up intense, sometimes excessive, physical activity. Anorexics rejoice over their own weight loss.
Clinical symptoms include a slow heart rate (under 50 beats per minute), low blood pressure, and physical and psychological fatigue. Teens have to be hospitalized.
You can expect crises and conflicts. The teenage anorexic feels pressure from those closest to them as well as fromtherapeutic intervenors, even as they persist in their anorexic behavior. It takes a lot of patience and care to deal with a teenage anorexic. Those closest to them may try to put them in hospital to get them force-fed food and medication to get their weight up. This may simply result in the anorexic feeling even more isolated.
When the anorexic loses control of restricting their diet, they become confused. They may feel as if they have failed, and turn around and eat uncontrollably. They may become bulimic. Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by periods of overeating punctuated by vomiting and/or taking laxatives. This may require a period of monitoring of the electrolytes in their system, as bulimics can get dehydrated.
When an anorexic finally gets over their condition they may ask themselves why they became anorexic in the first place. Some recognize a psychological fragility, and may want to undergo psychoanalysis. Others will simply want to turn the page and forget that period of their life. If the teenage anorexic continues their behavior into adulthood, there may be another psychiatric condition at work as well, such as a personality disorder or depression.