Anorexia: When Being Too Skinny Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Anorexia: When Being Too Skinny Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Last update: 09 November, 2016

Anorexia tends to be reduced to a mere desire to be skinny, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a complicated illness with a high mortality rate. For this reason, we should never confuse the illness with the symptom.

Most people aren’t aware that this need to be thin is a form of self-destruction. For many people, it starts with a problem that they can’t control, so they move to strictly controlling their diet as a way to protect themselves from their fears and defenselessness. They feel the need to find positive reinforcement in their body image, a need that they put before their own life and survival.

Anorexia is thinking about food all day, every day.

But why does this happen? Is it a mental problem, or are there other factors that are out of the person’s control that affect the brain? Today, we’ll respond to these questions and discover how this obsession with thinness is just a small part of anorexia.

What goes through the head of a person with anorexia?

People with anorexia try to consciously reduce their food consumption, to such a degree of discipline that some almost completely avoid food. The less they eat, the better.

So can we call it a mental disorder? The truth is that this term might bring some confusion. What we’re sure of is that it is caused by compulsive behavior in which there’s a great preoccupation with the consequences of eating.

This indicates that the brain of a person with anorexia doesn’t function the same as the brain of a healthy person. We all have a system of response to pleasure and reward that’s really important for our survival. In the case of people who suffer from anorexia, this system is altered.

smaller than the cookie cutter

For example, each time a healthy person feels hungry and eats, their brain produces a positive response. In this way, their relationship with food is healthy. The same does not happen with people who suffer from anorexia, because they can’t differentiate between a positive stimulus and a negative one.

Putting up with hunger should never be a victory.

But that’s not all. Many neurobiologists have determined that in people with anorexia, there is an alteration in the functioning of the neurons that communicate with the part of the brain that detects hunger. That area coincides, curiously, with the region associated with emotions, sensations, and body perception.

Hormones are also partly to blame. In people with anorexia, many of the hormones that stimulate appetite and weight have low levels, which causes a serious eating disorder.

Wanting to be thin

We’ve seen how anorexia produces changes in the brain that reflect an altered reward system. But is that all?

People who suffer from this disorder also present similar psychological features, some of which are more pronounced in some people than others. Not all of them have to be present.

  • A low self-esteem, which has been associated with body image and unattached to reinforcements.
  • The need to control everything. They exercise said control over their bodies and food, which they feel is the only thing they can control.
  • A search for identity, which gives them a lot of anxiety.
  • Constant changes in mood, which can go from euphoria to depression.
sad man on scale

These are a few of the characteristics that people with anorexia can display, but there are many more. As you can see, the self-esteem aspect is very important. It’s related to other underlying problems that make the person want to stop eating.

Anorexia starts by avoiding food and continues with a hundred thousand excuses.

Trying to intervene without the help of a specialist and with a singular strategy, like making the person eat, without working on other aspects like reinforcement, will just make the person better at hiding their behavior and deceiving you.

It might be a cry for help, or the manifestation of a deeper problem. It’s not just a question of appearance, of eating or not eating. Behind anorexia, there is a person drowning, with deep inner problems that also must be treated. Obviously, a lack of nourishment is what could finally kill them, but that doesn’t mean you should only intervene to address this system. Instead help address the pain that is causing the disorder.

woman with anorexia

Anorexia does not mean being thin to look better; it means problems, insecurities, pain, and sadness. Not eating is just one way, not to feel good, but to avoid feeling bad. The reinforcement of this behavior comes from the avoidance of suffering, from distancing themselves as much as possible from feeling like their will is weak and that they’re not worth anything.

In this way, people with anorexia end up fearing food like one would fear a lion or a snake, because they see it as the worst enemy to the controllable world that they’re trying to build. A world in which for them, the only hope is having one gray day in the midst of all those black days.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.