Anorexia nervosa is a serious psychological condition and a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. However, with the right treatment, recovery is possible.
The condition commonly involves emotional challenges, an unrealistic body image, and an exaggerated fear of becoming overweight or obese.
It often begins during the teenage years or early adulthood, but it can begin in the preteen years. It is the third most common chronic illness among teens.
Both men and women can develop anorexia, but it is 10 times more common in females.
A recent case study conducted in Kuwait showed that 44.7 % of adolescents in Kuwait suffered from disordered eating. While there are many different types of eating disorders, perhaps the most common are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.
What is anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia can lead to a distorted body image and an unwillingness to eat.
Anorexia nervosa is a psychological condition and an eating disorder in which the individual loses more weight than is healthy for their height and age. The individual will maintain a body weight of 85 percent or less of their expected weight.
A person with anorexia will intentionally restrict their food intake, generally due to a fear of being or becoming fat, even when their body mass index (BMI) is already low. They may also practice excessive exercise, use laxatives, and vomit to reduce weight.
Anorexia nervosa is a complex condition, but the main sign is usually severe weight loss. The person may also talk about being overweight, although objective measures, such as BMI, show that this is not true.
Other physical signs and symptoms resulting from a lack of nutrients include:
severe loss of muscle mass, listlessness, fatigue, exhaustion, hypotension, or blood pressure, lightheadedness or dizziness, hypothermia, or low body temperature, and cold hands and feet, bloated or upset stomach and constipation, dry skin, swollen hands and feet, alopecia, or hair loss, loss of menstruation or less frequent periods, infertility, insomnia, osteoporosis, or loss of bone density, brittle nails, irregular or abnormal heart rhythms, lanugo, fine downy hair growing all over the body, and increased facial hair
Signs of vomiting include bad breath and tooth decay, due to the acid in the vomit.
Psychological signs and symptoms include:
Anorexia nervosa is not only about avoiding food, but it brings emotional challenges, too.
excessive concern about being fat or overweight, frequently measuring and weighing themselves and inspecting their bodies in the mirror, obsession with food, for example, reading cookery books, lying about food intake, not eating or refusing to eat, self-denial, lack of emotion or a depressed mood, memory loss, obsessive-compulsive behavior, irritability and over-exercising.
Food and eating become associated with guilt. It may be difficult to talk to the person about a possible problem, as they will likely refuse to acknowledge that anything is wrong.
No single cause has been identified for anorexia nervosa. It probably happens as a result of:
- Environmental factors may include the hormonal changes that occur during puberty, plus feelings of anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem.
- Media pressure and fear of gaining weight are sometimes, but not always, contributing factors.
3.The fashion industry and media messages suggesting that being thin is beautiful may have an impact.
Biological and genetic factors:
Genetic factors may affect a person\’s susceptibility to eating disorders, as they can run in families. Between 50 and 80 percent of the risk for anorexia is thought to be genetic.
According to the American Psychiatric Association\’s (APA\’s) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa are as follows:
- Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
- Disturbance in the way in which one\’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
Eating disorders are reported to have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Complications can affect every body system, and they can be severe.
Physical complications include:
Cardiovascular problems, blood problems, gastrointestinal problems, kidney problems, hormonal problems and bone fractures.
Early diagnosis and treatment reduce the risk of complications.
Treatment and recovery
Treatment can involve medication, psychotherapy, family therapy, and nutrition counseling.
It can be difficult for a person to accept that they have anorexia, and it can be hard to engage them in treatment, as the resistance to eating is hard to break.
The patient may fluctuate in their level of cooperation and acknowledgment that there is a problem.
Treatment tends to be long-term, and relapse is possible, especially during times of stress. Support from family and friends is crucial to successful and lasting outcomes. If family members can understand the condition and identify its signs and symptoms, they can support their loved one through the process of recovery and help prevent a relapse.
Counseling includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing the way the person thinks and behaves. CBT can help a patient to change the way they think about food and body weight, and to develop effective ways of responding to stressful or difficult situations.
Nutrition counseling aims to help the patient regain healthful eating habits. They learn about the role of a balanced diet in maintaining good health.
There is no specific medication, but nutritional supplements may be needed, and the doctor may prescribe drugs to control anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or depression.
Hospitalization may be needed if there is severe weight-loss or malnutrition, a persistent refusal to eat, or a psychiatric emergency.
The intake of food will be increased gradually to enable safe weight gain.
Living with anorexia nervosa
What individuals, friends, and family can do if they think they or a loved one may have anorexia nervosa.
These tips might be useful for you:
- Be kind and respectful rather than judgmental.
- Look into providers of treatment to find good matches, and meet with some of the people to decide who can best help.
- Consider a treatment team including a dietitian, a therapist and a psychiatrist all who specialize in eating disorders. You can also book an appointment with the dietitian at Lina’s and Dina’s Diet Center for a consultation to provide you with the possible solutions to help you avoid anorexia nervosa and enjoy a healthy body.
- Make sure that you get all of the education and support that you can.
- Review your treatment and make changes when you think best.
And always remember, Body love is about self-worth in general. It’s more than our physical appearance.