What happens exactly? Here's a look at what anorexia does to the human body.
The first victim of anorexia is often the bones. The disease usually develops in adolescence -- right at the time when young people are supposed to be putting down the critical bone mass that will sustain them through adulthood.
"There's a narrow window of time to accrue bone mass to last a lifetime," says Diane Mickley, MD, co-president of the National Eating Disorders Association and the founder and director of the Wilkins Center for Eating Disorders in Greenwich, Conn. "You're supposed to be pouring in bone, and you're losing it instead." Such bone loss can set in as soon as six months after anorexic behavior begins, and is one of the most irreversible complications of the disease.
But the most life-threatening damage is usually the havoc wreaked on the heart. As the body loses muscle mass, it loses heart muscle at a preferential rate -- so the heart gets smaller and weaker. "It gets worse at increasing your circulation in response to exercise, and your pulse and your blood pressure get lower," says Mickley. "The cardiac tolls are acute and significant, and set in quickly." Heart damage, which ultimately killed singer Karen Carpenter, is the most common reason for hospitalization in most people with anorexia.
Although the heart and the bones often take the brunt of the damage, anorexia is a multisystem disease. Virtually no part of the body escapes its effects. About half of all anorexics have low white-blood-cell counts, and about a third are anemic. Both conditions can lower the immune system's resistance to disease, leaving a person vulnerable to infections.
Anorexia Damage Starts Early
Even before a person with anorexia starts to look "too thin," these medical consequences have begun Many young women who begin eating a severely restricted diet stop menstruating well before serious weight loss sets in. Since so many people with anorexia are teenage girls and young women, this can have long-term consequences on their ability to bear children.
Gaining weight will allow your body to function more optimally again and to reverse most of, if not all of the damage you inflicted on it whilst your were starving yourself. Even if you manage to partially recover mentally so that you can live like a relatively normal person, if you are still underweight your body will not be able to function properly. The chances of you conceiving a baby are reduced if ever you want to become a mum and you are more likely suffer from illnesses or infections as your immune system will not be as strong as somebody who is a healthy weight. Also if you are underweight, this indicates that you are still not eating enough (as otherwise your body would return to a healthy weight) which suggests you are probably missing out on particular nutrients and minerals that your body requires. This puts you at risk of things like Anemia (due to lack of iron) and osteoporosis (due to lack of calcium).
In my experience, I was not able to make any real recovery progress until I gained a significant amount of weight. The hard thing about gaining this weight is that you need to do it when your anorexic thoughts are still incredibly strong and overpowering. It isn't until you get closer and closer to a healthy weight that these thoughts begin to fade and are replaced with healthier'and more normal thoughts. There is no real secrets or techniques to making these thoughts go away. As hard as it is, you just have to push through them and remember that by fighting these thoughts you ARE getting closer to having the life you want and deserve. I suggest trying to stay busy so that you have other things to focus on and just have faith that if you continue fighting your anorexic thoughts, in time they will fade. And how do you gain weight? You basically just do the complete opposite of everything your anorexia tells you to do. You limit or stop your physical activity, you eat more then you ever have in your life and you stop doing all of those destructive things that you have done in the past.
I remember some nights my thoughts would be so strong (in regards to the fear of and actually gaining weight) that I just had to go to bed and cry myself to sleep. But I never gave into my anorexia and always just woke up the following day and ate everything on my meal plan, limited my exercise and went against everything my anorexia told me to do. I knew that I couldn't give into my anorexia by listening to its demands as this would be like giving it ammunition it needed to beat me. Once I gave into my anorexia once, I knew it would be so easy to continue giving into it and this would not allow my thought processes to change. So I stuck to my guns and consistently beat my anorexia and that is how I got to where I am today. So no matter how hard it may seem, just remember that it is possible and you can do it. No matter how loudly your anorexia screams at you and how bad it makes you feel, it cant actually hurt you. That pain is just temporary. And by enduring that pain now, you will be able to have a lifetime of happiness in the future.
I know that gaining weight as slowly as possible seems like the best way to gain weight to someone with anorexia but from my own experience I do not think this is the best thing to do. To be honest, gaining weight incredibly slowly just draws out the painful process of weight restoration and means that you are just inflicting extra suffrage on yourself. I was gaining about 500-700g per week when I was actively recovering and I found that this was a good rate to do it at. I feel it was a good rate of weight gain as I could adjust to my physical changes without relapsing while still keeping a good momentum. Gaining weight at this rate also made it obvious to me whenever I needed to increase my calories (due to my weight gain stopping). If I was gaining less then this per week, I think I would have been more likely to just brush off failure to gain weight in any particular week which would have stopped me from moving towards my goal of complete weight restoration and recovery.
I believe that gaining weight is not the only thing you need to do in order to recover, in fact it is only the beginning. But it is one of the first essential things for you to do before you can make any other type of real recovery progress. So I highly encourage you to start doing it as soon as possible. As you do manage to gain weight, your body will start functioning properly again and you will also start thinking more clearly too. And I know it probably feels like accepting your body at a higher weight is impossible but I promise you its not. I am currently about 15 kg heavier than my lowest weight (which I couldn't bare to leave at the time) and I love my body more now then I ever have before! The truth is you will never feel ready to start gaining weight so you just need to make the decision and start. I promise you it will be worth it!