The Funhouse Mirror That Is Anorexia

skinny woman looking at herself in a mirror

Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing something that isn’t really there, an image that doesn’t exist. This is the everyday occurrence for the individual struggling with anorexia nervosa. This most common of the eating disorders causes the individual to see a very different image in the mirror than what the glass reflects.

This distorted view is often the result of psychosomatic symptoms. Proper interventions demand a clear understanding of how symptoms manifest within individuals, especially as types of anorexia can vary across the individuals afflicted.

A study conducted at the University of Turin examined various somatic and psychosomatic symptoms present among individuals with anorexia. The study examined 108 individuals; 32 had a history of binge eating and purging, while 76 exhibited symptoms of restrictive eating. All participants were in a facility to receive emergency care.

In analyzing the participants, researchers found three specific subgroups. The first subgroup was the largest and included individuals who were in denial about their illness. Among the individuals in this group, 38 percent were also diagnosed with alexithymia, a condition that limits an individual’s ability to accurately identify and communicate their emotions.

A second subgroup experienced more severe symptoms and demonstrated higher levels of depression than any other subgroup.  The third subgroup experienced symptoms related to anorexia for the longest periods of time. They also experienced higher levels of anxiety in relation to their health.

Participants in the third subgroup also had nearly no ability to identify or communicate their emotions. Plus, 93 percent denied suffering any illness at all.

The study demonstrates the importance of analysis of any individual with anorexia and tackling the illness from this perspective. With the right treatment, the afflicted may eventually see the real reflection in the mirror.


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