Anorexia: anorexia can have life-threatening consequences

About ten percent of all anorexics die from their disease. Teenage age is when it usually starts. Some can no longer stop the weight loss at some point, emaciate more and more.

An anorexic model on the runway at a Versace showcase in Paris in 2014

France started requiring health certificates from modeling agencies in 2017 to crack down on anorexia.

Julia has been anorexic for more than 20 years. She is 1.60 meters tall and weighs 40 kilos. For them, that’s already a lot. "In my worst time, I weighed 30 kilos", she tells. Actually, she had only wanted to lose a little weight. She didn’t feel so good about her weight, although at 56 kilos she was in the absolute normal range. She made her decision on New Year’s Eve, as a New Year’s resolution, so to speak. "It worked out relatively well right away. From January to May, I lost six kilos. Most of the people around me thought I looked very good, but they thought that 50 kilos would be enough now. But by then I couldn’t stop losing weight", says the 41-year-old.

Thomas Huber has to deal with problems like this every day. He heads the Klinik am Korso in Bad Oeynhausen, a facility that specializes in eating disorders. "Those affected are often already so deep in the disease phase that they no longer have any motivation to change anything. That is exactly what is dangerous. These young people slip deeper and deeper into anorexia, and when you get below a certain weight, the condition can become quite life-threatening", Huber explains. "About ten percent of anorexics die from their condition."

A good 1.1 percent of girls and women and 0.3 percent of boys and men have anorexia, or anorexia nervosa. Most of them are between 14 and 16 years old. In the past, the cause of anorexia was thought to be the desire of many girls to look like models or to emulate actresses, but today we know that anorexia can have many other causes. Decreased self-esteem is part of it, abuse or also mobbing. Once caught in the spiral, the disease is usually hard to stop and gets worse and worse.

Skinny models on the catwalk

Many girls want to look like models and have the appropriate figure

Symptoms: Starving at all costs

After the first few months of her diet, Julia lost pounds faster and faster. Already in summer she weighed only 40 kilos. Her diet included only raw vegetables, then fruit, and finally half a roll in the morning and half a roll in the evening. An exception was now and then a glass of baby porridge. She was 21 at the time. For her, it was all about losing weight. She was happy about every kilo she lost on the scales, she was really proud of it every time. It had given her a kind of feeling of well-being.

At some point, however, her body started to fight back against the radical cure. During a walk she suddenly had numbness in one leg. Her mother took her to a neurologist. There she heard for the first time about anorexia, i.e. anorexia nervosa. "I then went to a nutritionist for eating disorders. He made precise meal plans for me. I thought this would help me. But it didn’t help at all." She lost more and more weight and could not stop the downward trend.

Causes: Lack of self-esteem

Julia is convinced that her anorexia is not the result of drastic experiences in her childhood. She grew up very sheltered, but already had very low self-esteem at school and always felt much smaller than everyone else. She couldn’t control that, but she could control whether she wanted to eat or not. She had control over that. She alone could determine whether she eats something or not. In the first phase, she was not aware of what she was doing to her body.

"Our body is programmed to survive and conserve energy wherever it can. But with anorexia, at some point I no longer just lose body fat. The body resorts to anything that somehow provides energy", says Huber. Important organ tissue is also degraded. "If, for example, the heart muscle is broken down, this can lead to heart failure. Or when the protective fat capsule around the kidney breaks down, it can lead to kidney failure. Besides, I don’t make so much blood and immune cells anymore. So I am much more susceptible to infections."

Macro image of heart tissue

Anorexia can even damage the heart tissue

Julia’s body also responded to being deprived of energy. The numbness in her leg was only a first warning shot. "I didn’t have my period, and I had a so-called lanugo hairiness. This looks similar to babies, who still have a bit of fuzz on their skin. I developed osteoporosis, my hair got all thin, and when I went swimming in the ocean with my parents on vacation, I suddenly went black as a sheet. That’s when I really panicked", Julia describes the situation at that time. And it shook her up: She sought help and went to a psychosomatic clinic for the first time.

Consequences: Retreat into isolation

In Julia’s case, one hospital stay followed the next. The first one lasted seven weeks, followed by outpatient treatment. In the spring of 2004 she went to the clinic again for three months, in November another seven weeks, in 2006 three months, in 2008 two months, further clinic stays in 2008 and 2010.

Treatment in clinics usually included daily weighing and supervised eating. She could not choose for herself what she wanted to eat. She was presented with a ready-made plate, did not have to and could not make her own decisions about it. "Eating disordered people have different tricks to save calories", Julia explains. "You might leave out the butter or scrape off the grains on the grain roll, because they usually have quite a bit of fat. They only eat the outer shell of the bun, not the white inside."

Her life revolved around anorexia only. Her whole person was running on austerity to consume as little energy as possible. She withdrew from her friends, had panic attacks and depression. These caused her to be listless, to have no desire to do anything, for example, to meet with others.

Symbol image: silhouette of a woman sitting on a long jetty looking at the water

Julia became more and more withdrawn, developed depression and phobias

Huber explains that depression is often accompanied by social phobias. "In social phobia, for example, people are afraid of being judged socially. In concrete terms, this means: I don’t dare approach strangers. When I’m new to a group, for example, I don’t dare to make contact. I prefer to sit quietly in my seat, or maybe I’m afraid of giving a presentation in front of the whole class, for example."

It was an extremely difficult time, says Julia. After her many stays in the clinic, she now weighs 42 kilograms. She has two small children, both have a normal weight. Julia, however, did not get rid of her anorexia even after 20 years. "Eating disorders will probably always be a part of me", she says.

"Lean curd& Pear"

Some people with anorexia manage to put the disorder behind them, return to normal eating habits. 31-year-old Manuel has overcome his eating disorder.

As a man, he is one of the rather rare cases of anorexia nervosa. Until eight years ago, however, the disease had a firm grip on him. Today he tries to help others. Since October 2020, he has been talking about his illness and his experiences regularly in his own podcast. The title ‘anorexic& Pear’. These two foods were pretty much the only things he ate during his worst period, he said.

Logo of the anorexia podcast Lean Curd and Pear

In his podcast, Manuel talks about his anorexia

Three and a half years this phase has lasted, it had begun when he was 19. Manuel also felt the need for control. He believed that when he ate, he had her, could at least determine whether and what he wanted to eat. "I had the feeling that I didn’t really know where I was in life at the moment. I was also on a kind of austerity program. Spending little money also means buying little.", says Manuel. For him it also meant eating less and less. That became an addiction.

Over the years he has slipped deeper and deeper into it. He started counting calories. Anorexia ruled his entire life, he says. After all, he still weighed 57 kilos. Manuel is 6 feet tall. "I knew that this was not normal, but I didn’t care. Now, many years later, it’s like I’m talking about someone else or watching a movie."

A good friend

A key experience made him change his life. Manuel is an enthusiastic musician, plays guitar in a band, composes his own songs. His friend also plays in the band. He was ultimately the trigger for Manuel to get out of anorexia nervosa. "There was a real bang: ‘It can’t go on like this,’ my boyfriend said at the time. He couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t watch it anymore. It was clear to me: If I don’t change anything and don’t seek help, I’ll lose everything that means something to me: my best buddy, the band, the music", Manuel recounts.

Manuel went to a counseling center and underwent outpatient therapy with a focus on eating disorders and eating in general. "Found a therapist pretty quickly. I often had to do homework. I should learn to relate to food again: How to properly appreciate food? What is a normal portion? What is too little and what is too much?"

Manuel Meier in front of a poster with his band

Manuel is an enthusiastic musician, writes his own songs

During therapy, Manuel became aware that the disease was taking a lot out of him. It takes away anorexics’ zest for life and a lot of energy, says Huber. "The pressure of suffering increases, and in the best case scenario, people with eating disorders then seek help. There are many ways to get it. For example, we have a questionnaire on our homepage. Those affected can fill out the form and then send it directly to us. After that, there are usually the first preliminary discussions", Huber describes one way to take a first step.

Manuel is convinced that he would not have made it on his own and without therapy. He has always tried to remember what it was like before his anorexia. "I wanted to be able to enjoy again, I wanted these constant thoughts to stop, and that not everything revolved around the eating disorder. I’m just glad to have this back again."

Podcast to help

Manuel got the idea for his podcast at a meeting of anorexics at a counseling center. He was invited as a former sufferer to answer questions. "One of the most common was: can you really do it, or are you anorexic for life??"

Manuel reached his normal weight again quite quickly. It took about a year. Today he weighs 84 kilos and is happy and grateful that he got rid of his addiction.

In his podcast, he first talked about his own experiences as an anorexic, wanting to share positive and negative experiences with others and give them encouragement. Above all, he also wanted to take away their fear of going to counseling centers.

Manuel Meier, standing in front of an old building wall

Manuel has left his addiction behind

But in the meantime, he says, he has finished telling his own story. Now there are more and more interlocutors at ‘Magerquark&’ Pear’. "A small group has even formed whose members exchange information with each other via Facebook. The most difficult thing is that you have to admit your anorexia to yourself, that you are looking for help and that you are ready to accept it. You can do it, but I don’t have a secret recipe for it."

Germany Acai Bowl in the Munich cafe Daddy Longlegs

Of superfoods and superpowers

Acai comes from South America. Very slowly it has spread all over the world as an insider tip, because it makes – so they say – slim. It is also said to be a fountain of youth and prevent wrinkles because of the abundant antioxidants it contains. Athletes expect an extra energy boost from the small, blue power fruit – for example in such an acai bowl.

Superfoods and superpowers


The avocado is one of the fattiest fruits in the world, but this does not make it a fattening fruit. Because its fat is valuable unsaturated fatty acids that have a positive effect on cholesterol levels and the cardiovascular system. In addition, the pear-shaped fruit contains many vitamins that are good for skin and hair, for the immune system – and the nerves.

Chia seeds in wooden scoops

Of superfoods and superpowers

Chia seeds

The small seeds are advertised as real all-rounders: They have a high protein content and are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The Mayas and Aztecs are said to have appreciated this already 5000 years ago. However, the small seeds are not really tasty, but rather tasteless. Chia fans eat them as pudding, gel or pure – simply sprinkled over food.

Goji berries from China

Superfoods and superpowers

Goji berries

Superlatives can hardly be avoided when it comes to superfoods, so here’s the next one: The goji berry is said to be one of the healthiest fruits in the world. It is said to strengthen the immune system and heart, help with high blood pressure, give energy – and keep young, for example good for eyes and skin.


Superfoods and superpowers


Very slowly the kale moultiert itself also with us of the outsider to the trend vegetable. In the U.S., kale – kale – has long had a good reputation. There are kale smoothies, kale salads, kale-everything. Kale is a vitamin bomb: 100 grams are enough to cover our daily requirement of vitamin C. In addition, there is plenty of vitamin A and minerals such as iron and calcium.


Superfoods and superpowers


The season of the dark blue berries begins in this country in July. Blueberries are considered anti-inflammatory vitamin bombs. The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have used them against intestinal diseases. Unlike the South American acai fruit, they have few calories and hardly any fat. But: they are said to have the same anti-aging effect.


Superfoods and superpowers


For gastrointestinal disorders, ginger is mainly effective due to its warming effect. This is said to improve blood circulation in the intestines. Inflammations can heal, the intestinal mucosa recovers. The warming effect of ginger is more effective when dried. When it is fresh, its pungency comes more to the fore, which is particularly important, for example, to strengthen the body’s defenses.


Superfoods and superpowers


Turmeric has been one of the most important Indian spices for thousands of years, and is an ingredient in curry powder, among other things. The ginger-like plant is considered sacred and belongs on almost every meal, as it makes food more digestible and aids digestion. But turmeric is said to be able to do even more: lower cholesterol, have antioxidant effects and be good against inflammation.

12/24/2014 DW fit and healthy almonds

Of superfoods and superpowers


If you want to do something good for your health, you should nibble on a few almonds every day. This is supposed to prevent hunger attacks, have a positive effect on the heart and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the fat of the almond is just like that of the avocado: of the good kind!

Food Eating Quinoa

Of superfoods and superpowers


Native to South America, quinoa (pronounced "kienwah") is also called Inca grain, Andean millet or Peru rice. It is considered probably one of the best plant protein sources in the world. The small grains contain all nine essential amino acids, disease-fighting antioxidants, are gluten-free and rich in minerals.

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