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Building a Support System Following an Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis

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A diagnosis of an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa is a terrifying situation. It’s a deadly disease and treatment can be complicated and time-consuming. Eating disorders don’t suddenly appear overnight, and they don’t suddenly disappear, either. The anorexia nervosa treatment process takes thorough planning, with a support system of loved ones and therapists in place when the individual moves on to aftercare.  

Anorexia nervosa is difficult to overcome; however, people with the disorder can enjoy long-term recovery with help during and after treatment. 

While the programme for treatment a person chooses to attend is crucial, what they do following recovery is just as important.  When seeking out an eating disorder recovery center for your loved one, make sure you take into account how comprehensive their aftercare and support programs are.

What are the symptoms

Anorexia nervosa, which is the most dangerous form of behavioral disorder, is a potentially life-threatening mental health disorder defined by extreme restriction of caloric intake, severe weight loss, body dysmorphia (flawed or distorted body image), and sometimes excessive exercising and diet pill abuse. 

People with anorexia nervosa, in most cases, make great efforts to restrict the number of calories they ingest in an effort to avoid being ‘fat’. They may also engage in excessive or compulsive exercise, beyond the point of self-injury.  Although it’s considered by the general population to be a disorder that only targets young women, this mental health disorder can affect people of all ages, genders, races and social backgrounds.

What are the warning signs

Although every case of anorexia nervosa is different, some of the most common red flags and symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Refusal to eat certain foods (also associated with ARFID)
  • Frequent, extreme dieting
  • Avoiding public meals or finding excuses not to eat
  • Obsessing over the number of calories taken in
  • Obsessing over body weight
  • Refusing to eat meals around others
  • The inability to maintain a medically appropriate body weight
  • Changing or stopping of the menstrual cycle
  • Low energy
  • Sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Consistently finding reasons to skip mealtimes or social situations that involve food

Early intervention is the key

Early intervention when someone you love has received an anorexia nervosa diagnosis could mean the difference between life and death. Even including widespread disorders like depression and PTSD, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of any known mental health condition.

If it is ignored or goes untreated, the health risks can pile up and become insurmountable. The psychological risk factor is high as well – anorexia nervosa patients have a much higher incidence of suicide than the general population.

That’s why it’s essential for recovery that families reach out to medical and psychiatric professionals when there’s an indication that anorexia nervosa or another serious eating disorder is developing.

As the patient’s support system is helping to locate the right anorexia nervosa recovery center for their loved ones, it’s important to look for a program that offers not only psychiatric, medical and therapeutic care modules but also a well-planned aftercare program that involves the patient’s support system.

How to build a support system

Before leaving the treatment facility, the patient, staff, and their family or support system should have put a complete aftercare plan in place. Often, family counseling is part of the actual treatment process, and it tends to lead to a more prepared support system when they graduate from a programme. 

Heading home and back into a regular routine without a solid aftercare plan can greatly increase the odds of relapse, undoing the progress made during active treatment. Almost every kind of behavioral health disorder can be triggered by stress or other difficult situations. With training on well-being practices, meal planning, and other support methods, the family members of the recovered individual can become the bedrock of a healthier, happier lifestyle.


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Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today


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