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With the growing access to the Internet and media, the pressure to conform to the unrealistic standards of beauty is colossal. People engage in rigorous exercise regimens, follow weight loss diets, and avoid eating in order to achieve the physique they have been desiring.
Several advertisements and health products brandish their outlandish claims on weight loss trying to exploit the vulnerabilities of people. Everyone seems to jump on the weight loss bandwagon without understanding what they are doing.
People do not pay attention to the details such as if it is the right time, if they are at the right age, and if their body needs to shed pound after pound.
The unnecessary obsession with weight is very common, particularly among adolescents. There is a tendency to perpetually feel the need to lose weight with a heightened restriction on food intake. Such obsession can take the shape of an eating disorder, which is a major cause of concern.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder marked by an irrational fear of gaining weight and dissatisfaction towards one’s self. This irrational fear and dissatisfaction can end up distorting your body image.
Eating disorders can be a troubling experience and can have adverse effects on your overall health. Anorexia can interfere with your judgment towards your own body shape, size, and self-perception.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anorexia is mostly diagnosed in adolescent women. However, it has also been diagnosed in children as young as age 7 and adults as old as 80.
People who have anorexia eat few calories, follow abnormal eating habits, and exercise excessively. Some people also use laxatives and diuretics or induce vomiting to eliminate the food they have eaten. (1)
What Are the Different Types of Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa can be categorized into two different types:
- Restrictive type – The person suffering from this type limits his food intake, especially those loaded with high calories such as carbohydrates and fats. This can cause starvation as the person is consuming fewer calories than required by his body.
- Binge/purge type – This type of eating disorder is manifested by excessive eating followed by forced voluntary vomiting to avoid gaining weight. The person may exercise vigorously, take laxatives, or use other medications to overcome the increase in calorie intake.
What Causes Anorexia?
The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown, but the disorder is believed to result from a combination of emotional, psychological, social, and physical triggers:
- Genetics and hormones may contribute to its development.
- Excessive pressure from society to look thin and attractive may also be a factor.
- People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may also struggle with anorexia.
- Childhood trauma including sexual abuse is also associated with anorexia.
- Choosing careers that demand a low weight such as modeling or ballet dancing may predispose one to anorexia.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia
People suffering from anorexia may exhibit the following symptoms:
- A low body mass index (BMI) in adults
- Weight and height not in accordance with your age if you are under 18 years old
- Delay in the onset of menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation) in young girls and the cessation of menstrual bleeding in women who have not reached menopause
- Brittle nails
- Dry skin
- Hair loss from the scalp
- Fine hair growth all over the body
- Reduced sex drive
- Feeling cold and dizzy
- Intestinal discomforts such as bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation
- Restlessness, disrupted sleep, and insomnia
- Heart problems
People with anorexia often have other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. These individuals tend to live a life of denial and social isolation.
People suffering from anorexia may not accept their condition and stay in a constant phase of denial. Their thought process is so conditioned by the disorder that they may continue denying their condition despite being diagnosed by a professional.
Anorexia may isolate the person, withdrawing him from social gatherings. He is likely to avoid venturing out, especially to events and places where food has a likely presence.
Treatment for Anorexia
Living with anorexia is a daily war against your body weight. It can render you malnourished and can bring you on the verge of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
It is imperative to get yourself treated in order to get your life and health in order. Anorexia can be reversed with proper treatment, conscious efforts, and the will to recover. (1)
After making a diagnosis of an eating disorder, your doctor will cater to your needs by tailoring a treatment plan. Once your condition is stabilized, he may include either one or more of the following ways to help you recover from the disorder:
- Nutritional counseling to aid in a healthy weight gain
- Psychotherapy of the affected individual and/or family
- Standard medications to treat related mental health issues as a result of anorexia
Diagnosis of Anorexia
Your doctor will ask you questions pertaining to your eating habits and weight-related concerns. Your doctor may prescribe tests such as blood tests, physical examination, and other scanning tests to rule out the possibility of a medical reason for the low weight.
Your doctor may also refer you to a mental health professional, who will likely diagnose your case using the DSM-IV criteria listed by the American Psychiatric Association, which include:
- Limiting the consumption of food relative to the needs of the body in the context of the parameters of age, sex, physical health, and developmental growth.
- Despite being underweight, the fear of gaining weight is extreme.
- Body weight and shape being serious causes of concern so much that they affect the self-worth; refusal to accept the seriousness of currently being in low body weight.
Alternative Therapies to Help an Anorexic Person
The treatment for anorexia requires the help of professionals. At the same time, you can try some lifestyle changes to assist in the treatment.
Note: Do consult your doctor for the proper diagnosis and treatment of this condition.
1. Try acupuncture and acupressure technique
Both acupuncture and acupressure can help people with eating disorders by increasing their sense of well-being and promoting relaxation.
A 2014 study concluded that acupuncture and acupressure might improve the subjective sense of well-being among people with anorexia nervosa. However, further research is needed. (2)
The acupuncture and acupressure points to treat eating disorders are Hegu (LI4), Zusanli (ST36), Neiguan (PC6), Taichong (LR3), and Yanglingquan (GB34).
Find a trained practitioner to do the acupuncture for you.
2. Get a body massage
Massage helps lower stress and anxiety levels. It also increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels, which help create a much more positive and healthy body image. (2)
When it comes to massage, remedial massage is the best option. It is a therapeutic massage that involves the systematic manipulation of the body’s soft tissues. Get this massage done by a trained massage therapist at least three to four times a week.
You can also massage your body, especially your neck, shoulders, back, and bottoms of your feet with olive oil or coconut oil before going to bed. This will help relax your body and relieve anxiety.
3. Do yoga and meditation
A person crippled by an eating disorder is not aware of the needs of his body.
The disorder eats him up and occupies his mind in such a way that there is an insatiable hunger to look thin. The need to promote and encourage an individual to get satisfied and happy in his own weight is huge when it comes to people fighting a battle with an eating disorder.
Yoga can help combat the emotional causes of anorexia. (3)
Some of the yoga poses that are helpful in treating anorexia are:
- Crab Pose (Catuspadapitham)
- Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
- Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
- Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)
- Squat Pose (Malasana)
Learn these yoga poses from an expert to be sure you are doing them properly.
Meditation is another effective way to fight anorexia. It can relax your mind and soul, helping you deal with your emotional struggles. With the help of meditation, you can train your mind to think positively and fight off negative thoughts.
You can do meditation in different ways:
- Sitting, standing, or lying down and focusing on your breath
- Repeating a phrase or mantra
When meditating, try to let go of any stressful conflicts that arise in your mind and body, without condemning them. If you are not able to practice meditation on your own, join a group or club.
Anorexia As a Serious Cause of Concern
A person may not realize that he is in the throes of an eating disorder until he hits rock bottom. An anorexic will starve himself to keep losing weight. This leads to a deficit of energy and life-sustaining essential nutrients. Anorexia can inadvertently take a toll on the physical and mental strength of the affected person.
The effects and consequences of anorexia may not be immediately noticed. Instead, they will occur once the energy deposits of the body have been exhausted and there is no inflow of energy or nutrition. These will show up in the form of reduced muscle and bone strength; absence, irregularity, or stopping of periods; heart problems; and reduced sex drive, among many others.
Young people and children may develop small stature and exhibit slow physical development. The person is likely to withdraw from social and family circles to hide his illness. He may not appear at family dinners or feasts to avoid being in contact with food. Additionally, he may be riddled with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and self-harm.
Long-Term Risks of Anorexia
Due to the prolonged avoidance of calories and essential nutrients in an untreated existent case of anorexia, the body’s nutrient levels can plummet to dangerously low levels.
This can lead to numerous complications later in life, such as: (4)
- Difficulty with concentrating, thinking, and decision making
- Social, emotional, and educational differences
- Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
- Intestinal and bowel diseases
- Slow growth in young individuals
- An imbalance of electrolytes in the body
- Problems during pregnancy
- Kidney problems
Additional Tips to Follow
- Attend group therapy regularly.
- Try your best not to stray from meal plans, even if they make you uncomfortable.
- Make a habit of eating breakfast daily, as it is essential for health. Then, eat several small meals throughout the day.
- Start your meal with vegetable soups, as they are good appetizers. People suffering from anorexia can try eating a fruit or vegetable salad before each meal.
- Eat spicier foods to help create a strong appetite.
- Eat a handful of walnuts and almonds daily, as they can help improve emotional health.
- If needed, take nutritional supplements to help restore your body to a normal weight and establish healthy eating habits. Consult your doctor first.
- Drink sufficient water throughout the day but do not fill up on water only.
- Family support and encouragement are important for the patient’s recovery.
- Parents should encourage their children to lead healthy and active lifestyles.
- Parents should also promote positive thinking within their children through compliments and constructive criticism.
When to See a Doctor
A person living with anorexia is oblivious to his situation and is likely not willing to see a doctor. Being occupied with weight issues tends to overpower his health concerns.
If you suspect yourself or someone in your social circle to be suffering from anorexia, it is crucial to seek immediate medical help. Early access to treatment can multiply your chances of complete recovery. After determining that you have an eating disorder, your GP will likely refer you to a specialist.
Anorexia nervosa can grip people with an omnipresent and irrational fear of gaining weight, tormenting them to the point of starvation. This irrational fear can also challenge them physically and mentally.
Due to the gravity of the consequences, individuals suffering from anorexia must seek professional help. The path to recovery may be challenging, but with proper medications and psychiatric counseling, anyone can recover from anorexia.
Treatment and alternative therapies can help you relax, restore your weight to normal levels, and release you from the excruciating burden of living a life of misery and insecurities.