Anorexia Treatment in New Jersey

One of the most well-known eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia. Anorexia is when a person’s body weight is less than 85 percent of their normal body weight. Individuals with anorexia have a distorted body perception, seeing themselves as “fat” when their weight is within or less than what is considered normal range.

Anorexia is a treatable mental illness that requires the help of trained medical professionals to recover. RWJBarnabas Health offers stigma-free treatment throughout New Jersey to those suffering from the effects of anorexia by using a multidisciplinary approach to address the biological, psychiatric, psychological and social issues related to anorexia.

Our nationally recognized Eating Disorders Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Somerset has been a pioneer, leading the research and treatment of eating disorders. It is one of only two programs in New Jersey with a dedicated inpatient unit.

Get Help Now

What Is Anorexia?

There is a commonly held misconception that eating disorders such as anorexia are a lifestyle choice. In fact, anorexia is a serious and sometimes fatal illness that is associated with severe disturbances in one’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight and shape may also signal an eating disorder.

Anorexia is characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. Anorexia involves severe calorie restriction in a constant effort to lose weight. Many anorexic individuals do not only restrict calories, but they also exercise obsessively to burn off calories.

As a result of their eating behaviors, many individuals with anorexia suffer from malnutrition from the lack of calories their bodies desperately need to carry out even the most basic biological functions. This can cause a host of physical troubles which can prove fatal without treatment.

Because anorexia can be life-threatening it is vitally important to seek treatment. Compared with other mental disorders, anorexia has an extremely high mortality rate. People with anorexia are at risk of dying from medical complications associated with starvation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia.

Causes of Anorexia

Anorexia is much more complicated than just an individual’s relationship with food. It is an unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening way to cope with emotional problems.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the lifetime prevalence of anorexia is 3 times higher in females than in males. While no single cause of anorexia has been discovered, it is likely a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

  • Biological. There may be genetic changes that make some people at higher risk of developing anorexia.
  • Psychological. Some people with anorexia may have obsessive-compulsive personality traits, or an extreme drive for perfectionism influencing self-esteem, and/or high levels of anxiety.
  • Environmental. Peer pressure, especially among young girls and the cultural emphasis on thinness can help fuel anorexia.

Anorexia, like other types of eating disorders, often starts in the teen and young adult years but anyone can develop anorexia at any age. Anorexia is characterized by disturbed eating behaviors often triggered by negative self-esteem concerning body shape or appearance.

Several factors, especially when they occur together, can put someone at risk including:

  • Major life transitions, such as going away to school or the death of a loved one
  • Family problems
  • Social or romantic problems
  • A traumatic event
  • Failure at work or school
  • A history of dieting
  • Society’s preoccupation with thinness and a negative attitude toward those who are in a larger body
  • Biological factors such as genetics and hormones

Symptoms of Anorexia

People with anorexia may exhibit some symptoms but also may tend to be secretive about their illness, disguising their thinness, eating habits or physical problems. Some signs and symptoms to look for include:

  • Continual dieting
  • Rapid weight loss of more than 15 percent
  • Preoccupation with food, nutrition, calories and/or fat grams
  • Avoidance of eating in public
  • Skipping meals, hiding food, pretending to eat
  • Excessive exercise
  • Frequent weighing

Other symptoms may develop over time and can prove fatal without treatment including:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia and muscle wasting and weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness or feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility

Diagnosing Anorexia

Although there are no specific tests to diagnose anorexia, a comprehensive evaluation, including medical history, physical exam, various diagnostic tests and a mental health assessment can help pinpoint a diagnosis.

Health care providers will explore a diagnosis of anorexia from many angles including:

  • Dietary history
  • Exercise history
  • Psychological history
  • Body image
  • Bingeing and purging frequency and elimination habits (use of diet pills, laxatives and supplements)
  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Menstrual status (if your periods are regular or irregular)
  • Medication history

Early diagnosis is important to achieve the best recovery outcome. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs and symptoms of anorexia, be sure to talk to a health care provider as soon as possible. RWJBarnabas Health is here to help.

Anorexia Treatment

Anorexia is a psychiatric illness that affects millions of children, adolescents and adults, most of whom are between the ages of 12 and 35. Anorexia is not just about weight, but a way for people to cope with underlying emotional issues. The recovery process, therefore, involves much more than treatment for the physical illness.

Treatment for anorexia involves helping those affected normalize their eating and weight control behaviors and restore their weight. Effective treatment for anorexia starts early and involves a combination of psychotherapy and medical attention to the patient’s dietary needs and overall health. Patients may need inpatient, residential, partial hospital treatment or intensive outpatient therapy, depending on how severe their case is and the patient’s preferences and desires.

It is not unusual for anorexia to result in depression, shame and isolation. The illness disrupts families, interrupts schooling, damages career, destroys relationships, and can bring about deadly complications. However, with proper treatment, individuals with anorexia can develop appropriate inner resources and look forward to once again living normal, productive and happy lives.

At RWJBarnabas Health, we are pleased to provide comprehensive and stigma-free treatment throughout New Jersey for anyone suffering from anorexia. Treatment may include:

  • Individual, group and family therapy
  • Medication management and education
  • Nutritional counseling and education
  • Self-help groups
  • Occupational therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • Specialized sessions on topics such as body image, spirituality and women’s issues

Anorexia Support Services

If you are struggling with anorexia, know that you are not alone and there is help available through RWJBarnabas Health. The first step is to admit to having an eating disorder, which can take a long time to accept, even after loved ones recommend eating disorder treatment and have provided clear suggestions that your eating habits are not normal or healthy.

Because anorexia can affect entire families, we offer support groups not only for patients but also for family members so they may better understand the nature of the illness and the process of recovery. Our caring and experienced staff is here to help patients and families get through the treatment process, consult with specialists as needed and help coordinate an educational plan with a patient’s school if appropriate.

Anorexia Prevention and Screening

There is no definitive way to prevent anorexia, but there are steps to take to develop healthy eating habits and lifestyle behaviors. Instilling healthy habits in children can help them lower the risk of developing an eating disorder. Here are some ways to help:

  • Foster and reinforce a healthy body image in your children, no matter their size or shape. Help them build confidence in ways other than their appearance.
  • Have regular, enjoyable family meals.
  • Avoid talking about weight at home. Focus instead on having a healthy lifestyle.
  • Discourage dieting, especially when it involves unhealthy weight-control behaviors, such as fasting, using weight-loss supplements, laxatives or self-induced vomiting.

If you have concerns about your eating behaviors or those of your children, talk to your health care provider who can guide you.

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, but they often start in the teen and young adult years. Be mindful of certain risk factors that may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder such as family history, mental health issues, stress, frequent dieting, and a history of being teased or bullied for having a larger body.

Contact Us

We offer comprehensive, effective treatment for anorexia and other eating disorders throughout New Jersey. For more information on these programs, contact us today.

If you or a loved one are dealing with anorexia, call our Behavioral Health Access Center, which is open 24/7, at 1-800-300-0628 to learn about available care and treatment near you.