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Understanding the Stages of Anorexia

written by: LotusSnow • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 12/14/2010

“Why don’t they just eat?" many of us ask ourselves. Anorexia is a multidimensional problem, and in order to help us understand it better, we can look at the different stages of the disease. For each anorexic, the symptoms and stages may be different but the progression of the disease is similar.

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    Anorexia nervosa can be a very damaging and debilitating disorder. It is characterized by abnormal eating habits, refusing to consume food to the point of starvation and obsessive exercising, causing sufferers to lose tremendous amount of weight until they resemble a skeleton with a skin cover.

    For each person, the stages of anorexia can be different. However, the pattern of gradual worsening of the symptoms and effects as time progresses are the same. Identifying the different stages of anorexia and its characteristics can help us begin to identify if someone or even ourselves are suffering from this condition.

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    Stage One – Exercise Obsessively

    People in this stage will appear as if they have become very fitness conscious. They have decided to take on a rigorous exercise regime as part of their decision to become healthier. The start exercising daily and the hours will gradually increase.

    Stage Two – Obsess About Foods to Eat That Will Aid in Exercise

    The person starts thinking about supplements and foods that might make them have more stamina to workout for longer periods and shorten their recovery period. They will be quite vigilant about what they eat, talking nonstop about what they have eaten, what they are going to eat, what they should and should not eat and how long it’s been since they last eaten.

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    Stage Three – Obsessively Count Calories

    The person starts to obsess about trying to eat as few calories as possible so that they can lose weight while still having enough energy to exercise. They become very concern over calories burned vs. calories consumed. Some outward signs that they exhibit may be pushing their food around on their plate, cutting food into tiny pieces, chewing food and spitting it out. This stage may be weeks or months. It is different for each individual. At this stage due to their restrictive diet and excessive exercise the person will start having an unhealthy appearance, looking gaunt and pale with dark circles under their eyes.

    Stage Four – Obsessed About Appearance

    The individual starts being obsessive about their appearance in the mirror. For example, some may pull up their blouse to see how many ribs they are able to visibly count, or start paying attention to their back, checking obsessively to see if their spine or other bones are showing. During this period, they will start to isolate themselves so that their friends and family will not witness this first hand. During this stage they may start to eat alone, declining offers to go out, and starts wearing baggy clothing.

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    Stage Five - Disease Progresses

    As this disorder progresses, one of the symptoms would be that the anorexic individual will start to gauge how many days they can go without eating before they faint. At this stage, fainting is common and this starts to attract the attention and alert friends and family that something is not right. This is also the stage where the disorder has truly taken over the individual and they are no longer in control. At this point, family and friends of the anorexic starts noticing and disapproving, making her defiant. The individual believes that they are just jealous of her and are trying to make her fail.

    Stage Six - Rapid Downward Spiral

    This is the final stage in the stages of anorexia. It is just the continuation of the downward spiral of this disorder, often at a rapid pace. Physical symptoms such as fainting spells, bloody noses, emancipated physiques, and extreme lethargy are obvious characteristics of this late stage of anorexia.

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    The stages of anorexia are merely guidelines. Not all sufferers of anorexia will go through these stages; nevertheless it is important that we look out for long-term weight loss and obsessive behaviors surrounding exercise and food. Anorexia kills. Don’t let this disease take your life or the lives of the people you know.

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    References

    1. The Stages of Anorexia http://eatingdisorderquestions.org/eating-disorders/the-stages-of-anorexia
    2. Anorexia Nervosa, Societal Causes and Solutions http://www.alliswell.org/papers/anorexia.pdf