Overcoming the Psychological Consequences of Anorexia
written by: Keren Perles
• edited by: Paul Arnold
• updated: 11/26/2010
Sure, anorexia has many physical effects on a person, but did you know there are psychological consequences of anorexia as well? A person who has had anorexia may experience any of these issues, but they can be overcome.
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Depression and Anxiety
Some of the most commonly known psychological consequences of anorexia include depression, anxiety and low self esteem. People who have anorexia and other eating disorders are at a high risk of developing these psychological problems, as well as of abusing drugs and alcohol. In fact, these issues can lead to suicidal thoughts, and possibly actions, with almost a fifth of people who have anorexia actually attempting suicide. Suicide accounts for close to half of the deaths of anorexics.
Treatment for these psychological effects of anorexia usually includes either anti-depressants or therapy (including cognitive behavioral therapy).
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Many of the psychological consequences of anorexia are often weight related. For example, a person with anorexia may have a distorted image of what their body looks like, and may refuse to believe that their weight is below average, even with the facts staring them in the face. People with anorexia may view and evaluate themselves solely on the basis of their appearance, and more specifically their weight and body measurements. They may also often begin to fixate on food and weight, thinking about both excessively, which prevents them from becoming involved in pursuits, leisure interests and activities that many people enjoy day to day.
These weight-related psychological effects of anorexia will need to be targeted in therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works very effectively to get at the core of these problems. CBT helps the person with anorexia examine each of their assumptions and attitudes and question them. Eventually they come to understand that these lack of validity.
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Anorexia can also lead to social withdrawal, for several reasons. First of all, the person may feel ashamed of their weight (no matter how low it is) and secondly, anorexics tend to avoid any situation that involves food. This, therefore limits the number of social situations that they feel comfortable in.
They may also structure their day so strictly that there is no room for any additional activities, once hours of exercise and food rituals are factored in. People with anorexia may also feel lethargic, or may snap at their friends because of their physical and emotional exhaustion. This can deepen their social isolation.
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Psychological Effects of Starvation
Studies on the effects of starvation show that starving the body produces certain psychological effects that can take some time to reverse. For example, a person who is starving focuses solely on food, with food-related thoughts constantly intruding. Starvation reduces logical and creative thinking, and leads to apathy and reduced sex drive. These effects cannot be targeted directly, but as a person slowly begins to control their eating disorder and other symptoms, the psychological consequences of anorexia will begin to dull.