March 17, 2013

Anorexia’s Behavioral Traits

If you have anorexia, you probably engage in some or all of the following characteristic behaviors. Because anorexia is progressive, you can expect all of these behaviors to become more pronounced or frequent the longer you have the disorder and don’t seek treatment.

Restricting food intake — severely

The hallmark of anorexia is your refusal to eat, even for basic nutritional needs, in spite of facing starvation and the risk of death. The official criteria consider refusal to eat as anorexia when your weight falls below 85 percent of what is normal for your age and height.

Your food restricting is mostly in the form of calorie counting. Intake of just a few hundred calories a day is not unusual. But you may also cut out entire food groups. Fats, of course, are out. Carbs — that is, starches and sweets — are almost always out. Anorexic restricting is not just dieting. It’s dieting run amok.

Becoming ritualistic

As anorexia develops, your eating habits get a little more precise. Everything related to the food you eat (or don’t eat) comes under the strictest control, and you practice certain rituals related to eating. For example:

·         Only certain foods are eaten.Foods are eaten only in certain combinations, in a certain order, or in certain bite sizes.
·         You eat on a schedule others find strange, and you usually eat in private.
·         You focus excessively on calories. Food accompaniments like condiments and spices get elevated to food group status because of their low caloric value.

And, as quirky as it may seem, you are frequently the family chef. Your interest in food has become obsessive and may lead you to pore over recipes and to shop for and prepare gourmet meals for your family (excluding yourself, or course, except as a test of your willpower to abstain).

Exercising compulsively

In anorexia, your basic drive in life is toward thinness and away from fat. Restricting calories is one major means to this end. Burning them up is another. If you have the restricting type of anorexia, you’re particularly likely to be obsessively devoted to your exercise routines and any other extra motion or exertion that will burn up more calories. You probably feel the same loss of control if you miss your exercise session as you do if you eat more than you meant to. And you probably exercise excessively, maybe for several hours a day, even if you’re ill or injured, or your body is what others consider emaciated.

Feeling hyperactive

As anorexia progresses, you may show a kind of restlessness that seems to be driven from inside. It goes beyond your weight loss strategy and isn’t something you can voluntarily control. Researchers think this form of hyperactivity is probably an outcome of starvation, either in the way starving affects body chemistry or the way it lowers your core body temperature. The hyperactivity is thought to be your body’s instinctive response in an attempt to raise its temperature.


A binge isn’t the amount you eat at the company picnic or even the tub of popcorn you go through while watching a movie. A bona fide binge involves taking in as much as 4 to 5 days’ worth of calories within a short period of time — and feeling desperate about it afterward. The notion that having anorexia means you’re not hungry is a myth. In reality, you’re likely to experience constant hunger (not surprisingly) — you’re starving! What do you do with that hunger? At times, you may do exactly what your body is screaming at you to do — eat! Bingeing is a normal response to starvation.

Using laxatives or enemas to atone

In the purging form of anorexia, you take action to get rid of calories when you believe you’ve eaten too much. Use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics (water pills) and self-induced vomiting are common practices. Purging practices put a severe strain on your body, which is already stressed to its limits by starvation. The outlook for the purging type of anorexia is actually a lot hairier than that of restricting anorexia. Getting better is harder if you purge.


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