Anorexia nervosa, known simply as anorexia, is an eating disorder that can have devastating consequences.
Those who struggle with the disorder and their loved ones and caretakers often also struggle with the difficulty of changing body perception and the underlying psychological issues that drive the obsession with avoiding weight gain.
According to a study in Psychiatry Research, a large percentage of people with anorexia relapse within the first four to nine months after treatment. This is based partly in a lack of desire to recover and low motivation to learn new behaviors that support recovery. The difficulty is particularly prominent in types of anorexia that include bingeing and purging as one of the behavior patterns.
However, it is possible for a person with anorexia to achieve and maintain recovery, continuing to work on a healthy relationship with food and with self-image. For people who are working on recovery, there are some tips and tricks that can help provide the support needed to maintain a healthy state of being and resist the temptations to relapse.
According to information provided from the WomensHealth.gov website, it is possible for a person struggling with anorexia to get better. This can be achieved by:
Along with these main treatment modalities, there are some actions that can be taken to help the person reach recovery and maintain it in the months and years after treatment.
For an individual who is aiming toward recovery but finding many obstacles to motivation, one of the first tips that can help is to work toward gaining control over anxiety. According to a study in The American Journal of Psychiatry, anxiety disorders – especially obsessive-compulsive disorder – are often co-occurring with eating disorders, and managing anxiety may be able to help the people who struggle with anorexia.
If the person is in a treatment program, awareness of anxiety disorders and other co-occurring mental issues such as depression can help the therapist adjust treatment to address these issues as well. In some cases, medication may even be prescribed to help control the symptoms of anxiety that contribute to anorexic behaviors.
Some other seemingly simple tricks that may help an individual manage the urges of anorexic behaviors include:
Research in the Journal of Mental Health discusses the family challenges that may contribute to or result from an eating disorder like anorexia. Sometimes, family dysfunction can be part of what leads to the disorder. In this case, one of the most important things family members can do is get involved in their loved one’s treatment.
Family therapy is an important part of anorexia treatment, because it can help establish new dynamics that are more supportive of healthy attitudes about food and body perception for all members of the family, even if they aren’t anorexic. Addressing these issues can help both the individual and the family as a whole understand and manage the behaviors that can contribute to an eating disorder.
Another tip is based on the idea that many people suffering with anorexia go to pro-ana sites because that is where they feel most able to express their fears and issues. According to a study in the International Journal of Women’s Studies, women often go to pro-ana sites because that is where they feel least observed and judged for their behaviors and most able to find empathy for their feelings.
Based on this idea, family and friends can help by working to avoid body judgments of any kind for the person who is struggling with anorexia.
It may be very difficult to avoid talking about the person’s body and the concerns that are arising from the appearance of the person, but it can be more helpful to base conversation on how the person is feeling instead.
A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders used the experience of a number of registered dietitians to determine the most useful elements of their treatment processes for their clients. The ideas presented as the most helpful in the study included:
Including these elements with the traditional recommended treatments above can help contribute to a person’s motivation to recover, which is vital to helping avoid the desire to return to anorexic behaviors.
As these tricks and behaviors become established, new patterns can emerge that support the person’s motivation to maintain positive body self-image and the desire to eat healthy. These in turn can help the individual maintain recovery and avoid relapse in the long run.
Disclaimer: American Addiction Centers facilities do not provide treatment programs for anorexia.