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Anorexia -- how to prevent it

Sunday,18 September 2022 09:33 PM IST

 

Anupama Nair

 

Everybody dreams of a lean and fit body. However, all do not have the fortune to have such a body. Instead of working hard to achieve, many especially fall prey to a medical condition Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. People with anorexia have a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with their lives.

 

To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia usually severely restrict the amount of food they eat. They control calorie intake by vomiting after eating or by misusing laxatives, diet aids, diuretics or enemas. They may also try to lose weight by exercising excessively, even after losing much weight, the person continues to fear a gain in weight. Anorexia is never really about food, but  extremely unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening way to try to cope with emotional problems. When you have anorexia, thinness is treated as  self-worth. Anorexia, like other eating disorders, can take over your life and can be very difficult to overcome. However, with treatment, you can gain a better sense of who you are, return to healthier eating habits and reverse some of anorexia's serious complications.

 

The physical signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are related to starvation. Anorexia also shows emotional and behavioral issues involving an unrealistic perception of body weight and an extremely strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. It may be difficult to notice signs and symptoms because what is considered a low body weight is different for each person, and some individuals may not appear extremely thin and  people with anorexia often disguise their thinness, eating habits or physical problems.

 

Symptoms

 

  • Extreme weight loss or not making expected developmental weight gains
  • Thin appearance
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Bluish discoloration of the fingers
  • Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
  • Soft, downy hair covering the body
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Constipation and abdominal pain
  • Dry or yellowish skin
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Swelling of arms or legs
  • Eroded teeth and calluses on the knuckles from induced vomiting

 

Emotional and behavioral symptoms

 

  • Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting
  • Exercising excessively
  • Bingeing and self-induced vomiting to get rid of food, which may include the use of laxatives, enemas, diet aids or herbal products
  • Emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms may include:
  • Preoccupation with food, which sometimes includes cooking elaborate meals for others but not eating them
  • Frequently skipping meals or refusing to eat
  • Denial of hunger or making excuses for not eating
  • Eating only a few certain "safe" foods, usually those low in fat and calories
  • Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as spitting food out after chewing
  • Not wanting to eat in public
  • Lying about how much food has been eaten
  • Fear of gaining weight that may include repeated weighing or measuring the body
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Complaining about being fat or having parts of the body that are fat
  • Covering up in layers of clothing
  • Flat mood (lack of emotion)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced interest in sex

 

If you have any of these symptoms see a doctor immediately. Unfortunately, many people with anorexia don't want treatment, at least initially. Their desire to remain thin overrides concerns about their health. If you're experiencing any of the problems listed above, or if you think you may have an eating disorder, get help. If you're hiding your anorexia from loved ones, try to find a person you trust to talk to about what's going on.

 

The real cause of anorexia is unknown. As with many diseases, it's probably a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. Even though it's not yet clear which genes are involved, there may be genetic changes that make some people at higher risk of developing anorexia. Some people may have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism, sensitivity and perseverance, all traits associated with anorexia. Some people with anorexia may have obsessive-compulsive personality traits that make it easier to stick to strict diets and forgo food despite being hungry. They may have an extreme drive for perfectionism, which causes them to think they're never thin enough. And they may have high levels of anxiety and engage in restrictive eating to reduce it. Modern culture emphasizes thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin. Peer pressure may help fuel the desire to be thin, particularly among teen-age girls. When I look at thin models, I used to feel a desire to be thin like them. As I grew up, I expected who I am .

 

Anorexia is more common in girls and women. However, boys and men have increasingly developed eating disorders, possibly related to growing social pressures.

Anorexia is also more common among teenagers. Still, people of any age can develop this eating disorder, though it's rare in people over 40. Teens may be more at risk because of all the changes their bodies go through during puberty. They may also face increased peer pressure and be more sensitive to criticism or even casual comments about weight or body shape.

 

Certain factors increase the risk of anorexia,  like:

 

  • Genetics.
  • Dieting and starvation.
  • Life changes

 

Anorexia can have numerous complications, and can be fatal. Death may occur suddenly even when someone is not severely underweight. This may result from abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or an imbalance of electrolytes that are minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium that maintain the balance of fluids in your body.

 

Other complications of anorexia are:

 

Anemia

Heart problems,

Bone loss (osteoporosis),

Loss of muscle

In women, absence of a menstrual cycle

In males, decreased testosterone

Gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating or nausea

Electrolyte abnormalities, such as low blood potassium, sodium and chloride

Kidney problems

Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders

Personality disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorders

Alcohol and substance misuse

Self-injury, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts

 

There's no guaranteed way to prevent anorexia nervosa. Family doctors may be in a good position to identify early indicators of anorexia and prevent the development of full-blown illness. They can ask questions about eating habits and satisfaction with appearance during routine medical appointments. If you notice that a family member or friend has low self-esteem, severe dieting habits and dissatisfaction with appearance, you need to help them and talk about these issues. Although you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing, you can talk about healthier behavior or treatment options.

The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of Media Eye. Legal action under the IT Act will be taken against those making derogatory and obscene statements.....

 

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