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Help for Anorexia Nervosa in South Africa – updated

Anorexia Nervosa is a very serious condition. If left untreated, its mortality rate can be as high as 20%. That makes it not only the most fatal eating disorder but the deadliest of all mental illnesses. Part of the reason for that is that other mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety, often co-occur in anorexics.

To anyone, that information can seem really overwhelming at first. But there is also a lot of hope for recovery from this potentially devastating disease. At Imani, we believe healing is possible for anyone who is willing to work for it. The road to wellness is not easy, but we are here to offer support and walk it with you.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

As mentioned above, Anorexia is a psychological disorder. The primary physical characteristic is self-starvation, and sufferers can experience periods of both restriction and purging. The purging can include excessive exercise, as a way to eliminate calories. No one starts off as a fully-fledged anorexic. Usually, it begins with a “normal” weight loss program.

As individuals lose weight and receive comments, the behaviour may escalate into the unhealthy eating disorder. Often, they will behave bizarrely around food they’re both obsessed with and terrified of it. They might be very interested in cooking food, but won’t eat what they prepare, or may hide food around the house. Suffers also commonly abuse diuretics of appetite suppressants.

Thought patterns are also usually quite disturbed. You might see someone with Anorexia Nervosa engaging in different rituals around food or other behaviours. Good examples of this are eating only at certain times, or washing dishes in a specific order. Usually, the afflicted individual won’t acknowledge anything is wrong, and have a distorted body image so that they perceive themselves as overweight.

Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

This eating disorder might have its roots in childhood. If someone was constantly exposed to weight-related comments or behaviour, they might use the same activities as coping mechanisms. Specific traumas can trigger Anorexia (up to 60% of sufferers are sexual abuse survivors) but this isn’t always the case.

For every person with Anorexia Nervosa who started acting out after a death or a bad break-up, there’s another one who did not. What they all have in common is using control of what they consume as a way to create a sense of order in a life that (for whatever reason) feels chaotic. The secretive and obsessive behaviour also serves as a great distraction for uncomfortable emotions.

At the same time, the drastic dieting has physiological effects which seriously impacts mental as well as physical state. The sufferer’s feelings are blunted considerably, and they may feel both a physical and emotional “high”. The experience is addictive, just as alcohol and drugs are. Substance addicts can’t resist using chemical, and anorexics can’t resist restricting or purging. 

Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

These eating disorders are most common in young women, but they can affect anyone. No race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender or age group is risk-free. Luckily, no group is unable to get better either. Recovery is almost always a huge group effort, and that’s definitely the approach we adopt at Imani.

Our multidisciplinary team uses a holistic care approach, dealing with the entire individual. That means we look at their unique story and circumstances, as well as any comorbid conditions. Treatment involves restorative nutrition, dietetic counselling, individual and group therapy, psychiatric and other medical consults, and family involvement.

We also use a variety of other therapeutic techniques, including Tension and Trauma Release Exercises. In addition, volunteer work and active involvement in recovery communities are strongly encouraged. Our comprehensive approach includes inpatient care, outpatient care, and aftercare to help clients reintegrate into daily life.

Recovery is possible – and worth it

At Imani, we want to assist anorexics at every stage of their treatment. Our passionate and dedicated team of experts firmly believes that with the right support anyone can change maladaptive behaviours and coping strategies so that they can grow and heal. If you’re concerned that yourself or a loved one may have Anorexia Nervosa, contact us to see how we can help.