What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves people going to extreme measures to control their weight and shape. Those who have a distorted perception of weight and fear weight gain may severely restrict the amount of food or calories they consume or use laxatives, diet aids, enemas, or excessive exercise to control their weight. These unhealthy behaviors negatively interfere with the individual’s life and can be life threatening if treatment or therapy is not pursued.

While many individuals with an eating disorder may attempt to hide their behaviors from those around them, there are several physical and emotional symptoms or signs that may suggest to others that an individual is struggling with an eating disorder.

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Frequently skipping meals
  • Obsession with physical appearance and weight
  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • View the full list here

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is critical to see a doctor immediately and receive the necessary help. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. Someone you know may be struggling from Anorexia without you even being aware. Health is far more important than a number on the scale or the image in a mirror, but those struggling with Anorexia don’t always see it that way and need help.

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Common Treatments for Anorexia

If Anorexia is left untreated, it can have detrimental effects on the body or even lead to death. Depriving the body of food and the essential nutrients can lead to anemia, heart problems, bone and muscle loss, gastrointestinal problems, electrolyte abnormalities, and kidney problems. Once the defects on the internal organs are done, they may not be able to be reversed, so it’s essential that treatment is sought as soon as possible.

Hospitalization or Program

Treating Anorexia usually involves several different approaches and collaboration from multiple experts. This can include doctors, mental health professionals and dietitians. Hospitalization may be required if an individual’s life is in immediate danger and they are in need of treatment for malnutrition, heart irregularities, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalances or they are continuing to refuse meals.

If hospitalization is not required or the patient is discharged, the next step in the recovery process may be to enroll in an eating disorder treatment facility or program. There are many institutions across the nation that specialize in helping people overcome their battle with Anorexia. Day programs, as well as residential programs, are all available and the individual should discuss their options with a doctor and family to choose the one that is best for their recovery.


There are several challenges that may make recovering from an eating disorder difficult and these include thinking you don’t need treatment, fearing weight gain, and not seeing anorexia as an illness but as a lifestyle choice. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help shift the individual’s outlook and thought process and see Anorexia as a disorder, rather than a lifestyle.

One form of psychotherapy is family-based therapy which utilizes a support system to help the individual restore a healthy weight. Cognitive behavioral therapy has also proven to be effective in normalizing eating patterns and behaviors and improving distorted body image and thoughts that may be the cause of restrictive eating. Continued therapy may be necessary to ensure the individual doesn’t relapse. It’s important to stay consistent with the treatment plan, including therapy sessions and meal plans, surround yourself with a support system, and avoid using a scale or mirror.

Support Groups

A strong support system is a great resource to have while recovering from an eating disorder. Support groups offer a safe space where people facing similar struggles can come together, share their stories, and offer a helping hand. Eating disorders can be isolating and many may choose to hide their struggles if they are ashamed or afraid to discuss it with family or friends. But a support group can be empowering, allowing those in attendance to talk amongst others who understand what they are going through without fear of judgement or rejection. Find a support group here.

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Alternative Treatments for Anorexia

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Every individual’s journey with an eating disorder is unique, and the treatment plans must be so as well. If the combination of treatment methods mentioned above are not showing promising results for an individual, it might be time to try Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

TMS therapy is a noninvasive, non-drug therapy technique that involves sending magnetic waves in pulses to specific parts of the brain. The flow of pulses stimulates cells in the brain, which changes their activity levels. While TMS therapy is generally used to treat depression, there have been successful studies done that show it is effective for several other conditions as well, including Anorexia.

In one particular pilot study, 17 people received TMS and 17 people were given a placebo-like TMS stimulation. At the conclusion of a month and 20 treatment sessions, the study showed improvements in body mass index, quality of life, and mood in the patients who received active TMS therapy. While further research is needed on the benefits of using TMS therapy to treat eating disorders, this study shows promising results. Call the TMS Center of the Lehigh Valley to learn more about TMS therapy and how it may be able to help you or someone you know.

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