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6 Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa We Don't Talk About

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When you think of anorexia nervosa, what comes to your mind? Sometimes, the media, and even our brains, like to blur out the messiest, most raw parts of struggles. Here are six symptoms of anorexia nervosa we don’t talk about.

1. Mood swings.

Malnutrition has a profound impact on brain health. Before my eating disorder, I was a very even-keeled girl. I didn’t speak much, anger was not an emotion I was capable of holding on to and I had a somewhat dulled affect. Restriction brought out the exact opposite. I found myself lashing out at anyone who “threatened” me or tried to stop me from listening to the eating disorder. This lead to even more guilt, and therefore perpetuates the cycle of restrict — become malnourished — act uncharacteristic of myself — guilt — restrict.

2. Obsession with food.

For many, eating disorders live in shame. Food, and the act of needing food, can be shameful. As anorexia progresses, the body tries to overrule the brain. Since many people who experience eating disorders do not get hunger cues, the only way our bodies know how to will us into eating is by creating an obsession with food. You may find yourself looking at recipes, baking (if it’s out of the norm for you), cooking foods for other people that you may not eat yourself and watching food and cooking shows.

3. Lying.

To continue acting on eating disordered behaviors, many people who have it find themselves becoming experts in lying. I have always been a very honest person, but as my disease worsened, I found myself lying to those I love and care about the most. This made me feel immense guilt and self-hatred.

4. Comparison.

I have difficulty shutting off my internal judgments when it comes to other people’s bodies and food choices. Admitting this is hard for me. I have always been unable to stop comparing my body to other people’s, and comparing my food choices to others. In my experience, a lot of people I have met in eating disorder treatment can be extremely kind-hearted, non-judgmental people, but when it comes to food, the tables turn. This once again, traps many people in guilt and perpetuates the cycle of acting on eating disorder behaviors.

5. Self-harming behaviors.

Eating disorders are torturous illnesses, and in some cases, dealing with that burden can cause self-harming behaviors to emerge. When people think of self-harm, often, the most common behavior that comes to mind is cutting. I think it’s important to note that other behaviors can fall into the self-harm category. Some of those include, but are not limited to: interfering with wound healing, using sex as self-harm, bruising, restricting water or fluids, not allowing rest and sleep, ignoring fundamental needs for social interaction and support and so many more.

6. Outlandish and illogical ideas and plans to lose weight.

I remember when I was in the hospital in the spring, I turned the thermostat in my room down as low as it would go, because anorexia had convinced me that being cold meant burning more calories or that standing up to write in my journal instead of sitting down would magically make me “worthy” of eating evening snack. I wish that someone had told me that it didn’t work that way. Ideas like this, that seem so illogical but are a last-ditch effort to maintain control over eating disorder behaviors and goals, are much more common than I had ever thought.

Remember, if you are dealing with any symptom of an eating disorder — whether the symptom is well-known or not, you are valid and your illness is valid. You are not alone.

  If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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Thinkstock photo via carlacastagno
Originally published: September 26, 2017
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