Anorexia is an eating disorder that leads to markedly reduced appetite or a complete aversion to food. People with anorexia constantly try to keep their weight as low as they can by not eating enough food.
The condition, dubbed anorexia nervosa, goes well beyond the limits of healthy dieting. Beside extreme dieting, a person with anorexia may also do a lot of exercise, well beyond the recommended levels. This may make them extremely weak and starved.
This is different than a person with simple anorexia, which just describes the symptom of food aversion. This may be caused by medical problems or medication.
A person with anorexia nervosa, however, has a distorted body image making them believe that they are fat even when they are underweight. Anorexia may affect people of any age or gender; however, it most commonly affects young women.
In a typical case of anorexia, the symptoms usually start in the mid-teens when the drive to become thinner may be due to concerns about control and fears relating to a person’s body. The desire to stay thin progresses as an endless cycle of restrictive eating, often pushing the sufferer close to starvation. Weight reduction becomes an obsession, just like a drug addiction, that may eventually become a life-threatening condition.
Is anorexia dangerous?
Long-term (chronic) untreated anorexia can lead to serious health problems. Excessively restrictive eating deprives the body of various nutrients and electrolytes.
Some of the risks of being anorexic are:
- Weak muscles
- Bone conditions such as osteoporosis (weak bones), osteopenia (poor calcium stores in bone) and frequent fractures.
- Problem with development in children and young adults
- Fertility issues
- Decreased of sex drive
- Heart problems such as irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and heart failure
- Electrolyte imbalance and severe dehydration can cause kidney problems.
- Low blood pressure
- Swelling over the body (edema)
- Seizures or fits
- Decreased focus or attention
- Poor memory
- Tingling and numbness in the body, due to nerve problems
- Bowel problems such as hyperacidity, chronic constipation, vomiting
- Low immunity, leading to frequent infections
- Menstrual problems such as missed periods (amenorrhea)
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicidal tendency
How do you treat anorexia?
The treatment of anorexia is aimed at
- Stabilizing the weight loss and managing anxiety associated with eating.
- Starting nutrition rehabilitation to restore healthy weight
- Treating emotional issues such as low self-esteem, distorted thinking patterns and developing long-term healthy behavioral changes.
The treatment of anorexia varies depending on the person’s needs. Treatment options include:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: It aims to develop motivation for changing actions rather than thoughts and feelings.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT addresses the distorted views and attitudes about weight, shape and appearance.
- Cognitive Remediation Therapy: It uses reflection and guided supervision to develop the capability of focusing on more than one thing at a time.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): It involves teaching patients how to develop skills to regulate their emotions, stress-management, mindfulness and healthy interpersonal relationships
- Family-based treatment (Maudsley Method): it is a type of group therapy that involves the patient's family to help them improve communication and develop better skills for overcoming anxiety.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy: It aims at resolving an interpersonal problem area. It helps improve the person’s relationships and help them communicate better.
- Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: It is directed towards the person’s underlying emotional needs and issues causing anorexia
- Medications such as antipsychotics and antidepressants like Olanzepine (Zyprexa) help in managing anxiety associated with food habits, stimulate sleep and hunger.
- Nutrition counselling
- Stress management through yoga, meditation, and relaxing massages
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Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by markedly reduced appetite or total aversion to food. Anorexia is a serious psychological disorder and is a condition that goes well beyond out-of-control dieting. With anorexia, the drive to become thinner is actually secondary to concerns about control and/or fears relating to one's body. There are psychological and behavioral symptoms as well as physical symptoms of anorexia including: depression, social withdrawal, fatigue, food obsession, heart and gastrointestinal complications, kidney function, flaky skin, brittle nails, and tooth loss (this list is not exhaustive).
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