Lyndzi Crash, a former Toledoan and dancer for the Toledo Ballet, now living in Arizona, has bravely battled anorexia. Although she believes her eating disorder began as early as three years old, she was officially diagnosed at the age of 22.
“It really blossomed when I was a preteen,” states Lyndzi. “One of my dance instructors actually encouraged my weight loss.”
Board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner, Tiffany Pottkotter, PMHNP-BC, diagnoses and manages medication for a variety of mental health issues. Although she has never met Lyndzi, she shares in her mission to eradicate the myths and stigma associated with anorexia.
More Than A “Diet Gone Wrong”
“The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown,” states Pottkotter. “However, there are several contributing factors, such as familial, social, environmental, or psychological.”
“It’s not just a diet gone horribly wrong,” Lyndzi adds. “Feeding yourself is one of the things you can control when your environment is full of chaos and completely unstable. There is research — but not enough — that suggests anorexia is also a biological-based illness, so it remains a psychological issue with a negative stigma preventing people from getting the help they need.”
Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the disease. “Medical care and hospitalization may be required during the acute phase,” states Pottkotter. “The best approach is to involve an interdisciplinary team made up of mental health professionals, medical professionals and dietitians.”
Myths and Treatment
For Lyndzi, the path to treatment for anorexia wasn’t easy. “Ballet was my whole life. Heather Iler, of the Toledo Ballet, helped me toward recovery. Mari Davies (executive director of the Toledo Ballet) was also very supportive. I felt like they were on my side. Others people would say, ‘Just eat more’. I would immediately shut out that approach because you see yourself as huge and not someone with a problem. I would go into remission but then relapse.”
It wasn’t until she tore a tendon while dancing with the Columbus Ballet that she realized the true impact of her illness. Lyndzi recalls, “A woman there told me that it was mandatory for their dancers to see a psychiatrist after an injury. She actually saved my life by tricking me into therapy.”
Pottkotter says that myths about anorexia can make it even harder for people to seek treatment. Common myths include:
- People with anorexia are just trying to get attention.
- You cannot die from anorexia.
- You can outgrow anorexia.
“People do not choose to have anorexia,” clarifies Pottkotter. “This is a real distortion of body image that causes severe suffering. Anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. Malnutrition can lead to death; depression can lead to suicide.”
In addition, Pottkotter says that anorexia cannot be resolved without treatment and support. It is not a phase and the longer it goes untreated, the harder it is to recover.
“Having anorexia is like being in an abusive relationship,” says Lyndzi. “You don’t realize you are in it until you are near death. If you are lucky, someone steps in and intervenes because the starvation creates brain fog and it is difficult to think clearly and face reality.”
Watching for Warning Signs
Knowing the warning signs of anorexia can help you or a loved one recognize the issue. Pottkotter says behavioral signs of anorexia may include an intense fear of gaining weight, a preoccupation with food and weight, excessive exercise, binge eating, purging, abusing laxatives, obsessive body checking behaviors, social withdrawal, or a change in clothing styles.
She adds that the physical signs may include loss of menstrual cycles in females, frequent or sudden changes in weight, dizziness, fatigue, and dental issues. The psychological signs of anorexia include a preoccupation with appearance, depression, anxiety about eating, or having a negative body image.”
Today, Lyndzi is doing well. “I still struggle with thoughts about restricting my eating but I don’t act on them,” she says. “When you have an eating disorder you are numb. All you feel is agitation. I now experience a full range of emotions. I enjoy life and the simplest joys — food is no longer the enemy.”
Related: Could your teen have an eating disorder? Learn more about the triggers and behaviors often associated with eating disorders.