Let us ask an outsider - anyone who has no experiences about our main topic, the eating disorders - what (s)he knows about the main characteristics of an anorexic person! In all likeability, we will get painfully shallow answers - we will have to be prepared for hearing some - or all - of the following stereotypes:
"Anorexic? Well, that is a fashion model who is actually dieing of self-inflicted starvation, with a body weight of maximum 35 kilograms, a braindead zombie and a perverted idiot, otherwise she would not do this."
In some cases, this description can be correct - if we concentrate only on the surface, we will find these clichés very true. However, the reality is much more complex than this. So, let us take a closer look at the reality behind these easy-to-remember stereotypes!
The mentioned fashion model who is around 35 kgs, is indeed considered to be anorexic. But it is important to know that fashion models are not the one and only group of endangered individuals. Otherwise, you do not have to be extremely emaciated to reach the limits of being "dangerously underweight."
The term "braindead zombie" is very often correct, especially in the later stages of anorexia. Constant hunger, starvation - and low level of blood sugar - may result in - among other things - the slowing down of certain brain functions and extreme difficulties in concentrating on subjects. (Anyway, it is important to know that most anorexic persons usually show an intelligence level far beyond the average!)
"Dieing of self-inflicted starvation" is an interesting topic. So interesting that I chose to discuss the "self-inflicted" and the "dieing of starvation" terms separately.
Let us see the question of "self-inflicted" first!
It may seem that the anorexic patient chooses to maintain this "lifestyle". (The main motivation for doing so is that the individual thinks she "eats too much"... while in reality, she "eats too much to avoid dying of hunger.")
There are many other details hiding behind this so-called "self-inflicted" starvation. To be very honest, an anorexic never, ever starves herself by her own will. No matter how stubbornly many anorexics insist on saying that they are doing this for their own good - there are sad things lying hidden beneath the extremely drastic dieting habits or the total neglecting of food. Unfulfilled desire to please your beloved ones; lack of (and desperately longing for) being accepted; crave for achievements; feelings of being unnecessary; disappointment, failure; "I can never be good enough, I must prove that I am worthy enough" - at least, these are the most common inner feelings which are compensated with the "typical anorexic behaviour".
Therefore, starvation is not a result of some "free choice" but of many various inside compulsions. To say it more simply: an anorexic person does not starve herself to "make her feel good", quite the opposite: she starves herself because she would feel even more terrible if she did not do so. Living with so serious personal and mental problems do make starvation "the lesser bad" choice.
(There is a connection between hunger and euphoria. I promise it will be explained in a later chapter, but here and now let it be enough for us to know: denying food compensates a complete and deep unhappiness, and starvation can be addictive.)
The question of "dying of hunger" is very remarkable.
In anorexic online communities, they used to say "if you are doing it well, you will never die of it!"
Of course, there are quite a few anorexic patients who are so desperate that they don't care about their lives being in constant danger; and, of course, there are a few who have decided and are willing to die of hunger - but this is relatively rare. It is more common that anorexic behaviour compensates the suicidal thoughts and instincts. The direct, violent suicidal act is replaced by indirect self-destruction.
I find it also important to mention: of course, anorexia can be a terminal sickness - but this does not too often mean concrete "death of hunger".
Without eating any food, an average human will die of hunger in 30...40 days' time. Let us compare this with the fact that most anorexic persons suffer from their sickness for long months or years, many of them are "wasting away" extremely slowly. They do not eat in satisfying quality and quantity, so they are underfed, but they do not necessarily (and constantly) deny food.
Suicide is a more common cause of death: if you have spent a long time in this living hell (oh yeah, though I am not Catholic, in my anorexic period I seriously believed in hell's existence... since this is what I lived in), you can get to the conclusion that "this is not a life which worth living".
Beside this, I have to add that I know certain cases when the person who has just begun to struggle with anorexic tendencies, committed suicide before developing visible signs of anorexia! This is why I find it very-very important that the environment - family members, acquaintances, friends, co-workers - should recognize the warning signs in time. I am speaking of my own experience: by the time your environment notices that you "look terrible", you have a long history of not eating, "abnormally" dieting and suffering inside. This is why I want everyone to know: the fact that someone does not "look anorexic" is not equal to that (s)he does not suffer from any eating disorder.
Anorexia and "hiding" are very close to each other.
Many anorexic patients are extremely creative at hiding their eating (starving) habits from their environment, as long as possible.
Most anorexic patients hide their sickness from themselves, too! This may sound paradox, so I think I owe a further explanation.
Anorexia comes with an altered self-image, an altered self-esteem. This is why you tend to consider "abnormal" things to be "normal". If you are anorexic, you will hardly recognize that you do something sicky. (Or, even if you are aware of your illness, it may happen that you do not see a certain behaviour "too abnormal".)
Calling a sick person "perverted" or "an idiot" is neither a clever, nor a wise thing to do. Being self-dangerous is not a sign of "idiotism" or "perversion" - but the sign of being sick and needing help.
You must also consider that an anorexic person has an incredibly negative self-image: this may easily mean that negative feedback will have a multiple effect, every negative feedback may strengthen the "I am worthless, I do not deserve to stay alive" attitude.
(It is especially dangerous because in this state of mind, you cannot think of any other ways to express your pain than being even more brutal to yourself.)