Anorexia nervosa or anorexia is a severe psychological condition and one of the most life-threatening eating disorders. People who have anorexia starve themselves and suffer from an intense fear (phobia) of gaining weight or becoming obese. Their perception of body weight is unrealistic, which makes them focus on keeping a check on their weight relentlessly. To ensure that they look thin and skinny, they tend to compromise with their health and quality of life to a great extent.
More about Anorexia
An anorexic person weighs around 15% less than their ideal body weight. To control gaining weight, they do whatever is possible. They restrict their diet, limit the portion of the food they consume, and do not eat even when they are hungry.
Some may also keep their calorie intake in check by intentionally vomiting after eating, overusing laxatives, or taking other medications that limit their calorie count. Some may overdo exercising to lose weight. However, no matter how thin they are, they continue to fear even the very thought of getting fat.
Anorexia is common in teenagers and people who are in their early adulthood. And in the list of common chronic diseases in teens, it stands in the third position.
If you are anorexic, you will often try to associate your body weight and shape with self-worth. It is not only unhealthy but can be life-threatening. However, if you get the right treatment, you can get back to healthy eating habits for sure.
What are the telltale signs and symptoms of anorexia?
As anorexia involves a persistent longing to look as thin as possible, the physical symptoms mostly revolve around starvation.
Some of the most common physical signs and symptoms include the following:
- Skinny and malnourished appearance
- Excessive weight loss
- Abnormal blood counts
- Bouts of fainting
- Bluish fingers
- Thin hair
- Scaly skin
- Amenorrhea (missed periods)
- Abdominal pain
- Yellowish and dry skin
- Cold intolerance
- Low blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Inflammation in legs and arms
- Tooth decay
- Anemia (deficiency of red blood cells)
Emotional and behavioral symptoms
Anorexia also has its emotional and behavioral impact associated with the fear of becoming fat. The signs and symptoms include:
- Limiting food intake severely
- Fasting limitlessly
- Working out excessively
- Intentional vomiting to get the food out of the body
- Using laxatives, herbal products, or enemas to get rid of food
- Skipping meals as much as possible
- Not willing to eat
- Eating selected food, especially the ones low in calories and fat
- Throwing the food after chewing
- Weighing repeatedly
- Looking in the mirror to see if they are overweight
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of emotion
- Dressing in layers of outfits
- Decreased libido (sexual interest)
When seeking medical attention becomes crucial?
People who have anorexia are obsessed with being thin. They are not at all worried about their health or getting medical attention.
So, if you, someone in your family or friend circle, are suffering from this eating disorder, request them to go to a doctor as this condition can be fatal.
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What are the causes of anorexia?
The specific cause(s) of this eating disorder is unclear. However, experts believe that there might be a combination of various factors, including psychological, biological, and social, that leads to this mindset.
- Psychological – The desire to look a certain way can make some people think that there are flaws with their bodies, and they do not match that standard of being thin and perfect. Such people will do anything to look skinny and flawless, right from stop eating to vomiting after eating to ensure there is no food left inside them. You can also call it an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).
- Biological – Although not evident, there can be some genetic issues that are behind this dysfunctional eating habit. Inclination towards looking perfect can be a genetic trait.
- Social – In some cultures and communities, thinness equates with self-worth and success. This perception can be the primary cause of eating in a certain way that does not impact body weight. Also, peer pressure can make young girls and even women adhere to being anorexic so that they can fit in the social standards of beauty.
What are the risk factors of anorexia?
There can be certain factors that increase the risks of getting this eating disorder. It includes –
- Genes – If any of your first-grade relatives, be it your mother, father, or sibling, is anorexic, you can be at a higher risk of developing this psychological condition.
- Calorie counting – If you are too much into dieting, calorie counting, and starving yourself to look perfect, you are at a higher risk of anorexia.
- Transitional phases of life – Changes such as new office, new school, new relationship, breakup, and losing a loved one, among others, can lead to tremendous emotional stress resulting in loss of appetite and eventually anorexia.
What can be the complications of anorexia?
There can be both physical and emotional complications due to anorexia. It includes the following:
Physical complications of anorexia
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone)
- Increased chances of fractures
- Cardiovascular (heart) problems, including abnormal heartbeats, cardiac arrest, or Barlow syndrome
- Absence of menstrual period
- Decreased testosterone levels
- Muscle loss
- Kidney issues
- Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, and constipation
- Abnormalities in sodium-potassium levels
Emotional complications of anorexia
- Personality disorders
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
How to diagnose anorexia?
If your doctor thinks that you might be suffering from anorexia, they will perform some tests for confirmation. They include:
- Physical examination
- Lab tests
- Psychological analysis
How to treat anorexia?
Treating anorexia involves a plan of care by a team. It includes medical professionals, mental health practitioners, and nutritionists. All of them work together and chalk out a program that is suitable for you.
Anorexia-induced malnutrition can harm your body as well as mind. Therefore, the main goal of anorexia treatment is to restore healthy body weight. Until and unless you get that right by eating right, you cannot get rid of anorexia. Some of the crucial points that your doctor might suggest when it comes to your diet plan are:
Focus on the quality of food you eat
If you are anorexic, you can neither start eating large portions of meals all of a sudden, nor is it advisable. Therefore, you should start with smaller portion sizes and focus on having foods that are rich in nutrients. This way, it will be manageable for you without having to force-feed. Your doctor will suggest you add veggies, fruits, fat, protein, and carbohydrate-rich items in your diet.
Your go-to food items when trying to recover from anorexia
Getting back to regular eating patterns and gaining a healthy weight after being anorexic for long is likely to take some time. And, there is nothing to worry about. Here some food items that you should include in your diet for getting the right nutrition:
- Avocado – Known for its high nutrient value, avocado is one of the healthiest fruits that you should include in your diet. It is rich in Vitamin C, B-6, E and K, and folate, niacin, potassium, beta-carotene, lutein, and omega-3 fatty acids, among others. This fruit plays a crucial role in allowing your body to derive energy from the food you eat.
- Baked beans – Baked beans are a great source of fibre, protein, healthy plant compounds, and other nutrients. These are beneficial for your gut health and help in improving weight. Apart from being healthy, baked beans also make great storage ingredients. Have some tins handy so that you have something to eat when you are in a hurry, hungry, or do not want to go out to fetch groceries.
- Oily fish – If you have anorexia, having oily fish will bring incredible health benefits to you. The omega-3 fatty acids content is high in oily fish, which is good for your brain, heart, skin, and overall health.
- Eggs – Eggs contain all the essential amino acids that your body does not produce. Therefore, eggs make a complete source of protein, the building blocks of your body. Plus, these are tasty, easy to prepare, and help you recover in a better way.
- Seeds and nuts – These make great snack options to munch and offer a lot of health benefits. These are rich in Vitamin E and improve damaged nails and hair. Moreover, they come with a long shelf life. So, you can also store them and have them when hungry.
Other treatment options include:
- Medical care – Anorexia can lead to a lot of health complications. Therefore, you need to visit your doctor regularly so that they can monitor your vital signs, physical conditions, level of electrolytes, and other signs and symptoms. If your condition is critical or your symptoms are worsening, your doctor may advise use of a feeding tube through your nose (nasogastric tube).
- Psychotherapy – There are two types of psychotherapy, i.e., family-based and individual therapy. These are beneficial for treating anorexia.
- Medication – Unfortunately, there is no specific medicine for treating anorexia. However, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to control anxiety attacks and depression.
How to prevent anorexia?
Although there are no established preventive measures for anorexia, you can consider the following pointers:
- If you find that your child or any other family member is showing signs of anorexia, such as low self-confidence, unrealistic eating habits, a constant urge to look perfect, and being dissatisfied with their appearance, talk to them. Help them understand the importance of eating right.
- Ensure paying a visit to your doctor because they are the right person to understand the early signs of this eating disorder.
Start small, but start!
Recovering from anorexia might take some time. However, you should make sure to get started on the road to recovery by taking small steps. Feel free to talk to your doctor about how you feel, and you will definitely get back to a normal life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Why should you refrain from referring to regular health-related websites when trying to recover from anorexia?
Regular websites that talk about healthy eating mainly focus on a low-fat and low-sugar diet. However, when you are anorexic, you need to have fat content in your food. So, in such a scenario, websites can be misleading.
- Is it necessary to get your meal plan structured?
If you create a meal plan, you will be able to reduce your stress. Fix a time for every meal and snack and stick to it no matter what. It will help you restore a regular eating pattern. If you are finding it hard, talk to your doctor.
- How can you build a healthy relationship with food?
It is advisable to choose comforting food items that make you feel positive and bring back good memories. It will help you build a healthy relationship with food and eating and make the recovery process easy.
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment