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Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by extreme weight loss, the intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted self-image. Many people with anorexia are thin but think they look fat—but the full picture of the condition is way, way more complicated than that. Like all eating disorders, anorexia is a serious mental disorder that can affect people physically, psychologically, and socially. It is fairly common, affecting about 30 million people of all ages and genders in the U.S. alone, and it has the highest mortality rate of all mood disorders. So if you recognize these behaviors in yourself or someone you know, it’s really important not to ignore them. People with anorexia live with the constant tension of perceiving themselves to be overweight, no matter how underweight they become. This can lead to obsessive scale monitoring, drastic calorie restriction, and excessive exercise. There are lots of physical symptoms, like dizziness or fainting, fatigue, insomnia, extreme weight loss, abnormal blood counts, low blood pressure, and dehydration. If anorexia is untreated, complications can include anemia, heart and kidney problems, and osteoporosis. It’s particularly important for those of us in the invisible illness community to be aware of anorexia, because it may affect people with invisible illnesses at a higher rate. Studies suggest an association between many chronic conditions and eating disorders, possibly because autoimmune processes influence the brain. Having anorexia or other eating disorders seems to increase the risk of GI-related autoimmune diseases like celiac and Crohn’s disease, for example—and vice versa. Anorexia is treatable, and while some people do get better on their own, it’s definitely a good idea to seek treatment at the earliest signs of the condition to avoid potential health complications. Treatments for anorexia include individual, group, and family psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, medications, and sometimes even in-patient hospitalization or rehab. You also might want to check out a 12-step program like Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA); joining a 12-step program that’s helped others to recover can give you hope for your own recovery. Some people have found success with alternative treatments, like Appetite Awareness Training, which involves increasing your awareness of hunger and satiety cues and using a schedule to retrain your eating habits. If you have an autoimmune or any other condition, make sure to let your practitioner know so they can factor that into your treatment plan. Meanwhile, if you are struggling with anorexia, it’s great to get support online, but know that social media may not be your friend. Watch out for sites that try to convince you that your condition is a lifestyle choice or encourage you to hide your behavior from friends and family. If diet Insta accounts or images of thin celebrities trigger your anxiety about your body, stay away! If you need to pull the plug on social media for a while, that’s totally understandable. Just try to check in offline with the people who love you, so they know how you’re doing as you seek treatment and work towards recovery. Most importantly, no matter how isolating this condition can feel, know that you are not alone. Many people in the Wana community have experience with anorexia. They may be actively dealing with the symptoms, seeking treatment, or going on decades of recovery. Or they may be a close friend or family member of someone who’s dealt with this challenging condition. You can be sure that your WanaFam will support you in any way they can. We’ve got you!

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