Speaking to a survivor of the disease, Ciara Ferguson continues Eating Disorder Awareness Week with exploring anorexia nervosa.
We have all heard of anorexia and although the word means loss of appetite, this isn’t the case at all. Appetite is supressed rather than lost. A person who has anorexia does not allow themselves to eat food and therefore cannot maintain a healthy body weight, as a result, both the body and mind are starved of nutrients.
Anorexia Nervosa can effect males and females of all ages. There can be many factors that can contribute to the cause of anorexia; a need to be skinnier, or even just the need to feel in control. As with most eating disorders, there are usually underlying psychological issues that also have an influence on the disease.
Niamh Ní Chonaill (19), moved from a small area in Connemara to Belgium at a young age. She describes it as a “stressful experience” for her and her older sister, which made her feel “down and anxious”. When she turned 11, all of this was heightened.
“I always thought the other European girls had great slim bodies so I started dieting,” she says. “I started being more worried about body image and what other people thought of me.” She continues, “What started out as an innocent diet ended up a complete vicious addictive cycle of cutting out more and more food. I hid food, I avoided it at all costs until it came to the point that I feared it.”
At one point, Niamh admits to eating only one slice of toast a day and drinking only a little bit of water. It was then that they returned home and she was hospitalised.
Once she admitted she had a problem, things became easier. “The harder I fought, every meal I ate, every negative thought I changed to positive helped with who I am today.”
Although she no longer has issues with food, she still suffers with anxiety and depression but is hoping that one day she’ll look back and fondly tell her success story of that battle too.
A few symptoms of anorexia include: an intense fear of putting on weight (this fear is not lessened by any amount of weight loss), low self-esteem, perception of body shape and size are disturbed, social isolation, unable to sleep but constantly tired, frequent weighing, excessive thinking and talking about food and related issues and lying about food intake, claiming to have already eaten or to have plans to eat elsewhere.
The time needed for recovery varies according to each individual, for example, some people may take longer than others to accept that they have a problem and acceptance is the key to recovery. The aim is to have the individual speak with several people: a mental health professional, a medical professional and a registered dietitian to work towards a healthy weight and healthy eating habits.
I know it may seem impossible now if you are suffering from anorexia, but if you accept that you have a problem, like Niamh did, you will find you can beat this with the help of others.