Anorexia, also known as anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the individual starves himself or has abnormal eating habits due to an overwhelming fear of weight gain. People who suffer from anorexia keep feeling hungry but they deny themselves an adequate food intake to avoid gaining weight. This is a serious mental disorder that can affect men and women of any age and social background. This condition is very prevalent in adolescents particularly in girls, who tend to be very self conscious about their appearance. People with anorexia may resort to extremely restrictive dieting, extreme exercising and even purging to lose weight. Anorexics are always sensitive about others perceiving them as fat or obese and some even have an extreme fear of becoming fat. Anorexia can be life threatening if not treated in time. In the first stage of anorexia a person just comes across as being very fitness conscious, while in the second stage he/she starts getting obsessed about both exercising and eating. By the third stage the person is obsessed with eating the lowest number of calories and starts looking pale and weak. Finally by the fourth stage the person is extremely obsessed by the way he/she looks in the mirror and this may be visible even publicly. In the fifth and sixth stages the symptoms of anorexia set in completely and may be noticed in the form of an extremely frail physique, fainting spells, nose bleeds and lack of energy. Research shows that almost 0.6% Americans are likely to suffer from anorexia at some point in their life. This is especially true with the number of weight loss diets and products that are available to us and also because of our societys obsession with rapid weight loss.
The most noticeable sign of anorexia is extreme weight loss. By limiting their food intake anorexia patients lose large amounts of weight and they may even resort to excessive exercise. The other physical manifestations of anorexia can be seen in the form of thinning hair, irregular menstrual periods, dry skin, abdominal bloating, upset stomach, swollen hands and feet, fatigue, low blood pressure, abnormal cardiac rhythms and even osteoporosis. There are also a number of psychological and behavioral changes that can be seen in anorexic patients such as an inability to remember things, refusal to eat, distorted self perception, obsessive compulsive behavior and depression. Some of the basic warning signs that parents and family members can look out for include skipping meals, eating very limited amounts of food, refusal to eat in public, constantly weighing oneself and compulsive exercising. Some anorexia patients also have a tendency to purge food by vomiting. Others may even use excessive laxatives or diuretics to lose weight. As the condition progresses patients get increasingly obsessed with weighing themselves frequently and become even more conscious of their appearance. The diagnosis of anorexia can only be made by a qualified medical professional. It is very important to rule out other medical conditions that can mimic the symptoms of anorexia such as bacterial and viral infections, neuro degenerative diseases, tumors and hormonal imbalances. Medical tests can be done to rule out other causes of muscle wasting and weight loss. Conditions like inflammatory bowel syndrome, celiac disease and Addisons disease can also cause these symptoms. The causes of weight loss can be determined with the help of tests like bone density test, albumin test, ECG, kidney and liver function tests, thyroid tests and urine analysis. Anorexia should be diagnosed in time or else can lead to other health complications like weakening bones, electrolyte imbalances, decrease in white blood cells, which increases the risk of infections, severe malnutrition and dehydration, thyroid problems, tooth decays and even seizures.
Although the exact causes of anorexia are unknown, it can be caused by factors like social or family pressures, genetics, hormonal imbalances and various other psychological factors. Anorexia can affect both men and women but is seen more prominently in young females. Social factors and attitudes tend to promote thin figures and this can be another cause of anorexia especially in young girls. Most often family pressures or circumstances within the family can be big contributing factors for anorexia. Studies have also shown that Caucasian females who are good in academics and are very goal oriented are more prone to anorexia as compared to women of other races. Some of the other risk factors that can contribute to the condition include extreme self consciousness about body weight and shape, a perfectionist attitude, digestive or eating problems in early childhood, family history of anorexia, parents who are obsessed with weight loss, negative self image, sports activities that require a lean body and stressful life situations such as abuse, rape or even changes like a new job. Severe emotional stress or trauma before or during puberty can also lead to anorexia in the case of some people. Dieting increases the risk of anorexia especially in the case of people who tend to become compulsive about dieting once they have lost some weight. The desire to keep losing weight can pave the path to anorexia without the person even realizing it.
Most rapid weight loss diets fail to deliver successful weight loss results and therefore the best way to avoid anorexia is to steer clear of such diets and any rapid weight loss programs. Weight loss can be achieved in a much healthier manner by following a well balanced nutritious diet and regular physical activity. Before you take up any weight loss program it would be advisable to seek your doctors advice, especially if you have a history of eating disorders or a poor image of your body. Counseling and other psychotherapy sessions with a trained eating disorder expert can help to prevent anorexia, compulsive dieting and related emotional problems. Support from family and friends can also be very helpful in overcoming eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. The most important lifestyle change that an anorexia patient can make is having a healthy attitude towards his/her body and food. A healthy attitude can be developed by maintaining healthy body weight, having a better image of your body, avoiding triggers, improving your lifestyle, developing coping skills and getting treatment when required. It is vital for a patient to make these physical and mental changes for the long term management of this disease. Treating anorexia can be quite challenging as most patients refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem. Therefore it is very important that the patient himself wants to get treated and is willing to accept help from family and friends. People suffering from anorexia for less than 6 months may not require hospitalization, but severe cases would need to be treated in a hospital. The main line of treatment involves changing the persons eating habits and counseling to change his attitudes. In addition to conventional treatment methods there are also a few home remedies which are helpful in preventing and curing anorexia. Garlic can stimulate the digestive system and increase a persons appetite and hence is a useful remedy for anorexia patients. Garlic soup prepared by boiling a few garlic cloves in a cup of water should be given regularly to anorexia patients to stimulate their appetite. Similarly ginger also helps in increasing the appetite and therefore ground ginger had with rock salt once everyday is a useful anorexia home remedy. Herbs like chamomile, wormwood, sage, thyme, lavender and centaury are known to be appetite stimulants and can be very effective in treating anorexia. Fruits like oranges and apples help in digestion and must be included in the daily diet of anorexia patients.
A diet plan for anorexia focuses on weight gain and restoring body tone. Patients should be given a well balanced nutritious meal high in proteins that can help to regain and build muscle and bone strength. Vital vitamins and minerals can be obtained from fruits and vegetables that are also low in calories. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber which helps in boosting digestion and metabolism. Foods rich in proteins such as chicken, eggs, legumes and pulses should also be included in the daily diet. Carbohydrate rich foods like whole grains, oats and rice are also a must for anorexia patients. In addition to dietary changes vitamin supplements for B vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, K and folic acid should also be regularly given to patients to help them recover from vitamin deficiencies caused by anorexia.
While taking care of recovering anorexia patients it is very important for caretakers to be role models themselves and practice healthy eating habits. It is also important to be supportive and compassionate while caring for such patients. Negative communication, outbursts and threats must be completely avoided as this can trigger off an anorexia relapse. Caretakers must also make sure that under no circumstance should the patient resort to the use of laxatives, enemas or other medications that have not been prescribed by the doctor.