Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person typically has an overly negative view of himself or herself and as a result refuses to ingest enough food to remain healthy. The way in which food intake is avoided can vary among individuals afflicted with this disorder, though the results are typically a number of potential medical issues. This is primarily a psychological disorder, though there are physical aspects to the illness and certain physiological conditions can mimic this disorder. Anorexia nervosa has been diagnosed as a disorder for centuries and is usually treated with a combination of behavioral therapies and lifestyle changes.
Often simply called anorexia, anorexia nervosa was first named by Sir William Gull, an English physician to Queen Victoria. In general, the disorder is categorized by a general refusal to ingest food or nutrition, or by an effort to purge the body of food after eating. These actions are usually caused by an excessively negative self-image, leading someone to believe that he or she is overweight regardless of his or her actual weight. This lack of nutrition due to anorexia nervosa continues even though a person is at or below a healthy weight.
Many people think of anorexia nervosa as a refusal to eat, and this is a common form of the illness, though binging and purging can also be evidence of this disorder. The lack of nutrition and the physical toll a person can take on himself or herself through purging often leads to numerous medical consequences for this illness. These can include everything from tooth loss due to repeated vomiting to brain atrophy and skin discoloration due to malnutrition.
Someone with anorexia nervosa will often refuse to eat, obsess about food or eating and establish rituals while eating such as cutting food into equally sized small pieces. He or she might also cook large meals for others but not eat or eat small amounts and then quickly purge afterward. Women are the most common sufferers of this disorder, with about 90% of cases afflicting women, and 40% of those involving adolescent women between 15 and 19 years of age.
Treatment for anorexia nervosa can be quite successful, and this is typically not a chronic illness. Most cases last less than two years and while relapse is possible, even after relapse the illness is often overcome. Psychological treatment such as behavioral modification is common for this illness, as well as medical treatments to return a person to a healthy weight and ensure proper nutrition. Someone suffering from anorexia nervosa is typically helped to view himself or herself more appropriately and to overcome the root causes of his or her negative body image.
Anorexic Diet Tips and Advice
Consult a Nutritionist
In order to make sure that you are eating the right things, it is imperative to consult a nutritionist. This way you can ensure fast results with maximum impact.
Blood Sugar Level
It is absolutely important for the patient to have the appropriate blood sugar level. For that, they need to have a minimum intake of 200 micrograms of chromium twice daily for six weeks. Post six weeks, the dosage can be reduced to half by taking 200 mg once a day.
Nervous Stress Relief
Anorexia patients, due to the lack of nutrition, put undue amounts of stress on their nervous systems. This stress needs to be reduced and brought under control. Moreover, the bowels (that have also faced a blow) need to be gotten back into regulation. To meet both these ends, magnesium plays a vital role. 500 to 1,000 milligrams of magnesium daily, preferably, in the form of magnesium glycinate is what is needed.
The digestion takes a very major blow, due to the diet irregularity. This needs to be corrected as well. For this, the patient needs to have foods that are high in fiber content. So, a lot of fruits and wheat based foods need to be had.
Plan B & E
Vitamin B is needed for hormonal regulation and for the nervous system. A B-complex supplement supplying 25 milligrams of each of the major B vitamins every day would work effectively to that end. Vitamin E also helps the hormonal regulation. For balancing out Vitamin E intake, start by taking 200 international units daily, then gradually increase the dosage until you are taking 400 international units twice daily.
Most anorexics end up facing severe zinc deficiency. As such the patient needs to be given a minimum of 25 mg zinc, twice a day. Zinc can be included in the diet by having lots of cooked dried beans, sea vegetables, fortified cereals, soyfoods, nuts, peas, and seeds.
Anorexia Nervosa can be detrimental, if not controlled and cured in time. Support from the family, morale boosting and self-confidence boosting along with the right diet are the keys to curing this disorder.
Symptoms of anorexia
The main symptom of anorexia is losing a lot of weight deliberately. For example, by:
- eating as little as possible
- making yourself vomit
- doing too much exercise
A person with anorexia will want their weight to be as low as possible – much less than the average for their age and height. They are so afraid of gaining weight that they cannot eat normally.
After they have eaten, they may try to get rid of food from their body by making themselves sick regularly. Signs of regular vomiting could include:
- leaving the table immediately after meals
- dental problems such as tooth decay or bad breath, caused by the acid in vomit damaging their teeth and mouth
- hard skin on their knuckles, caused by putting their fingers down their throat
The need to obsessively burn calories usually draws people with anorexia to activities, such as running or aerobics. Some people will use any available opportunity to burn calories, such as preferring to stand rather than sit.
They may try to make food pass through their body as quickly as possible. For example, by taking:
- laxatives (medication that helps to empty the bowel) or
- diuretics (medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
In reality, laxatives and diuretics have little effect on the calories absorbed from food.
Eating and food
Although anorexia means ‘loss of appetite’, people with anorexia nervosa do not usually lose their appetite; they like food and feel hungry.
However, they do not think about food in the same way as other people. This can show itself in various ways. For example, they may:
- tell lies about eating or what they have eaten
- give excuses about why they are not eating
- pretend they have eaten earlier
- tell lies about how much weight they have lost
- find it difficult to think about anything other than food
- spend lots of time reading cookery books and recipes
Someone with anorexia nervosa strictly controls what they eat. For example, by:
- strict dieting
- counting the calories in food excessively
- avoiding food they think is fattening
- eating only low-calorie food
- missing meals
- avoiding eating with other people
- hiding food
- cutting food into tiny pieces – to make it less obvious that they have eaten very little, and to make the food easier to swallow
- taking appetite suppressants, such as slimming pills or diet pills
Some people with anorexia also begin to use stimulant drugs known to cause weight loss, such as cocaine or amphetamines.
Self-esteem, body image and feelings
People with anorexia often believe that their value as a person is related to their weight and how they look. They think other people will like them more if they are thinner, seeing their weight loss in a positive way.
They often have a distorted view of what they look like (their body image). For example, they think they look fat when they are not. They may even try to hide how thin they are.
Many people will also practice a type of behaviour known as ‘body-checking’, which involves persistently and repeatedly:
- weighing themselves
- measuring themselves, such as their waist size
- checking their body in the mirror
Anorexic people usually have low self-esteem or self-confidence. They may withdraw from relationships and become distant from members of their family and friends.
Anorexia can also affect the person’s school work or how well they perform their job.
They may find it difficult to concentrate, and they might lose interest in their usual activities. They may have few interests, even though they seem busier than usual.
Other signs of anorexia
Eating too little for a long time can result in physical symptoms, such as:
- fine downy hair (lanugo) growing on their body
- their pubic hair becoming sparse and thin
Their heartbeat may be slow or irregular, which can lead to poor circulation. They may also:
- have pain in their abdomen (tummy)
- feel bloated or constipated
- have swelling in their feet, hands or face (known as oedema)
- feel very tired (fatigue), as their sleep patterns may have changed
- have low blood pressure (hypotension)
- feel cold or have a low body temperature (hypothermia)
- feel light-headed or dizzy
In children with anorexia, puberty and the associated growth spurt may be delayed. They may gain less weight than expected (if any) and may be smaller than other people of the same age.
Women and older girls with anorexia may stop having their periods (known as amenorrhoea or absent periods). Anorexia can also lead to infertility.