16-year-old Jigyasa was a shy, studious adolescent, who tried hard to please everyone. She had an attractive appearance, but was slightly overweight. Like many adolescent girls, she was interested in boys but, being studious, had never been in a relationship. She began to believe that she wasn’t pretty enough to get the attention from the opposite sex, and that she would never get a boyfriend if she didn’t lose some weight. She began to diet relentlessly, never believing she was thin enough even when she became extremely underweight. She became obsessed with dieting and food and developed strange eating rituals. She resisted eating food with any fat and carbohydrate content. She also exercised compulsively, even after she fainted in the public once.
Eating disorders like anorexia are considered to be a result of personal choices. But people hardly know that such disorders can even be life threatening. There is clearly a need for increased awareness about anorexia and our expert Dr. Samir Parikh, Consultant Psychiatrist, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare highlights some key facts about the disorder that you should know before you think you need to lose some weight.
1. Self-starvation = anorexia: Anorexia nervosa is a type of an eating disorder that is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight. People suffering from this disorder restrict their eating habits to an unhealthy degree, be preoccupied with losing weight to the point of starvation and have a distorted body image.
2. Anorexia is more common in teenage girls: Anorexia usually affects young people in their teenage or pre-teenage years and is more commonly found among girls. The etiology if eating disorders is a complex amalgam of biological, social, cultural, familial and personality factors.
3. Peer pressure and social media makes women more susceptible to anorexia: Without doubt there is an increasing influence of the Western culture on Indian population. The portrayal of an idealized but unrealistic body image by the media is the main reason teenagers start perceiving themselves as overweight. Women suffering from anorexia give physical appearance give prime importance as the means to gain popularity and acceptance. They make thinness into a tremendous ideal which is associated with high achievement, better social standing and hence ultimately relating to a high self-esteem and body-esteem.
Teenage girls with changing bodies due to puberty and in the process of forming cognition and feelings about their own body are most susceptible to anorexia nervosa from a psychological and sociological perspective.
4. Anorexia can kill you: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in ten anorexia cases ends in death from starvation, suicide or medical complications like heart attacks or kidney failure. Anorexia nervosa by definition refers to the person restricting eating habits to the point of starvation. As a result it is associated with a variety of health concerns, including death due to the same. Some health effects can include but are not limited to anemia, irregular menstruation, dehydration, blood pressure irregularities, kidney disease, liver disease and many other related health complications.
5. Anorexic people may start hiding and lying about their eating habits: One of the most obvious signs of anorexia nervosa is that the person becomes very thin and beings to look emaciated. The weight loss may be drastic and sudden. Obsession towards weight loss becomes so intense that the person may consumes very little or no food at all. This makes them defensive to an extent that may start hiding or lying about eating.
6. Anorexia makes a person more likely to be depressed: Anorexia affects a person psychologically as well. Even though everyone around the anorexic girl may tell her that she is too thin or under weight, she may still feel fat or that she needs to lose more weight. This person can go into depression, get convinced that happiness will only come to her when she loses weight or does not gain any weight.
7. Nutritional counseling and psychotherapy can cure the disorder: It is very important for people suffering from this disorder to find correct treatment as early as possible due to the critical health risks associated with it. Medication and psychotherapy are a combined treatment of choice, in some cases hospitalization may be recommended. Nutritional counseling to instill healthy eating habits and psychotherapy to understand the problem and unlearn patterns learnt as part of the disease are important aspects of treatment for the same.
8. Awareness can prevent anorexia: Most people suffering from anorexia have very limited insight about their problem and believe that they are only trying to reach their idea of perfection. Therefore, increasing awareness about eating disorders can help in prevention.
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