Anorexia is often misunderstood and the drive to protect this 'state', by the sufferer, often causes confusion and disbelief in others. It’s a destructive, devastating and addictive process that only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate. Whatever the trigger it is a complex illness but one that you can recover from.
The negative mindset associated with all eating disorders can be disturbing and in anorexia you can find yourself with beliefs that would literally starve you to death. Logical thoughts and concentration suffer as the weight is lost and the body goes through all manner of imbalances and reactions to the stress of starvation.
You don’t necessarily lose your appetite, you can ‘feel’ starving but these feelings become the norm, like living with a pain that’s been present for year’s. In periods of starvation (also extreme crash dieting and bulimia) endorphins are released to relieve pain and this in itself can become addictive. Clients often tell me they feel fit and have great energy, when in fact the body is being eaten away. This is a useful device if you need to find strength to search for food during famine but all feelings of wellbeing and energy disappearas the illness takes it toll on both body and brain.
So these endorphins are similar to opiates and like heroin ‘have a profound effect on the mind and body. Emotional numbness acts like pain relief, creating a zombie like state and adhedonia, the inability to enjoy the pleasures of life. Memory loss of crucial moments of the day can be very upsetting, as can lack of empathy and a general detachment from the real world. Isolation like this is necessary for the illness to maintain its hold and this is why I encourage socialization as aprt of recovery.
If you have no experience of anorexia yourself you may have experienced the release of endorphins on exertion, for example in periods of exercise. Marathon runners experience rushes of endorphins to relieve pain and allow them to take the body where it would not willingly go. Starvation, in anorexia, does this too. It’s used as a survival mechanism to help us through extreme events, like starvation, its stops us giving up.
The most disturbing part of this process, for me, is the brain becoming physically addicted to the dream like state it creates, numbness and detachment from reality, ‘safety’. It can feel so very safe but of course it isn’t. In the world of anorexia you can feel cushioned but only with continued starvation, the weight is never low enough, and the possibility of death and complications gets ever closer as weight plummets. It’s Russian roulette!!
In recovery there is a loss of endorphin release. Real feelings begin to return and with it the regaining of normal mental and physical experiences. Although this can be a difficult time and leads to relapse in some, many find support and move past this step to recovery. There is hope and any step to recover is worthwhile, take a leap of faith!
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