Anorexia Nervosa is one of a group of eating disorders that comes from issues with food and body image. Anorexia can be life-threatening if left untreated. It occurs in both males and females and over 20 million men and women in the United States suffer from eating disorders. The fatalities due to anorexia nervosa are 12 times higher than any other cause of death among fifteen to twenty-four year olds.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa occurs when people have a distorted body image and feel they need to lose weight. They may lose too much weight and be too thin for their height and weight, yet they still think they need to lose more. Sufferers have a fear of gaining weight and over diet and over exercise even if not necessary or healthy. They can suffer severe malnutrition, especially electrolytes which can lead to fatalities.
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
The signs of anorexia nervosa have to do with food and weight issues. The following are signs and symptoms that are most common:
Emotional Signs Include:
Fear of weight gain
Keeping body weight 15% below normal BMI (body mass index)
Distorted body image (thinking they are fat, even when too thin)
Picking at food, eating only tiny amounts
Exercising too much non-stop
Unable to share meals with family or friends
Taking diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics
Physical Signs Include:
Muscle and fat wasting/skeletal appearance
Loss of muscle and bone strength
Sensitivity to cold
Fine downy hair all over body
Dizziness or fainting spells
It is not completely understood what causes anorexia nervosa. It is most likely due to emotional trauma, biological factors, and some environmental factors. The exact cause for each individual would be on a case by case basis.
Psychological Emotional abuse, rejection issues, and anxiety may contribute to poor body image. Some young females may have an obsessive-compulsive component to their personality and feel the need to adhere to strict diet and exercise regimens.
Environment The is a strong link to TV ads, magazine ads, and image to look good. It is all around us and we often feel like in order to be of importance, we have to be thin. In younger people, there is mounting peer pressure over looks.
Biological There may be a genetic component to the disorder. Some people are more genetically inclined to perfectionist tendencies. They tend to be more sensitive in nature and persevere in everything they do. These biological traits are strongly linked to people with anorexia nervosa.
Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa
The risk factors for anorexia are usually attributed to the following factors:
Age Group Teenagers are more at risk for anorexia because they are dealing with changes in puberty and growth. Emotionally teens are more sensitive to peer pressure and negative comments about their bodies.
Females Boys are at risk for anorexia, but there is a higher rate of females that suffer from eating disorders.
Genetic Tendencies There may be genetic links to eating disorders and it may run in families.
Changes in Weight Even small weight gains can cause someone to go on an extreme diet. When someone goes into starvation mode, they may change their brains response to food. It has been found that people with long standing anorexia cannot go back into normal eating patterns without intense therapy.
Life Trauma & Changes Moves, new schools, new jobs, or relationship issues can trigger an eating disorder.
Athletes or Performing Artist Being in a position where you have to maintain a certain weight can trigger an eating disorder. This is common among models, dancers, ice skaters, and gymnasts.
Diagnosing Anorexia Nervosa
The signs of anorexia can be very vague until the disorder has become advanced. The following tests can be done to check for an eating disorder and if any damage is occurring to the body:
History and Physical The doctor does a good medical examination. They will check height and weight and compare to the BMI (body mass index). Vital signs will be checked, as well as skin and nails.
Blood Work Routine bloodwork done with anorexia checks the electrolytes, the liver, kidneys, thyroid, and complete blood count. This can give a good idea of nutritional status and if the organs are affected.
Mental Examination A mental workup can evaluate thoughts about eating, emotional status, and history of emotional trauma that may be linked to the disorder.
Radiology Studies Bone density may be checked. EKG’s can be done to see if there are any abnormal heart rhythms due to electrolyte losses.
Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is successfully treated with therapy, medication, and dietary modifications. Treatment often is lifelong and sufferers are prone to relapse if therapy is not continued. There needs to be an adequate support group and behavioral therapy regarding food issues.
Medications used are usually anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sometimes appetite stimulants. In serious cases where there is significant malnutrition, sufferers may need inpatient hospitalization with tube feedings, intravenous nutrition, and vitamin supplementation. There are instances where the body is unable to tolerate solid foods after long periods of self-starvation.
Lifestyle Changes For Anorexia Nervosa
There are a few lifestyle changes that can help with anorexia nervosa.
Keep a strong support system or join a support group
Remove bathroom scales and do not weigh more than once a week
Reduce exercise until appropriate weight is reached
Stick with any treatment plans, therapy appointments and meal plans
Have dietary back-up such as protein or meal replacement shakes
Refrain from reading materials that promote an unhealthy self-image
Preventing Anorexia Nervosa
Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to prevent the onset of anorexia but early intervention may be helpful. If you can spot the signs and symptoms early enough treatment can be aimed at preventing its progression.
Here are a few tips to use with kids and teens:
Encourage Healthy Eating and Exercise> Keep a positive outlook when talking about eating health and exercising. Stress that it is for good health and not looks.
Promote a Healthy Self Image Never call a child fat or say they will get fat. Teach them they are beautiful no matter what and what is inside is most important
Do Not use Food as a Reward or Punishment Never take away food if a child does something wrong or offer food if they are good.
Model Healthy Behaviors The best way to teach our kids is by doing. When they see us thinking about ourselves in a healthy way, eating and exercising right they will hopefully follow our lead.
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