Anorexia is an eating disorder that causes people to limit the amount of food they eat to prevent weight gain. This condition is most common in women-about 4% of women have this disease.
Anorexia usually lasts until a person is underweight. However, despite the obvious changes in appearance, people with this disease still think they are overweight.
This disorder is recognized as a mental illness. It has the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders, For anyone in this situation, proper management is a top priority.
There are several factors that can cause anorexia. Eating disorders, including anorexia, are complex and include a series of risk factors, including biology, psychology, and culture. Risk factors may also interact differently in different people.
Brain and body risk factors for anorexia
Although there is much to be uncovered about the causes of anorexia, the link between eating habits and hormones is still strongly supported.
In particular, estrogen (a hormone for the growth and development of the reproductive system) has been recognized as a direct influence on food intake. For example, it is well known that estradiol-an estrogen responsible for maturation and maintenance of the reproductive system-can produce satiety. This hormone can also prevent the need to eat and may lead to a reduction in consumption.
People with anorexia may also lack neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which controls eating habits and rewards. This deficiency also affects serotonin, which affects impulse control.
Mental health is also important in the progression of anorexia. People with anorexia often struggle with perfectionism. When you doubt the importance of your work, your contribution to life, and even the influence on your friends and family, these feelings of inadequacy can stimulate the development of anorexia.
A person may limit the amount of food they eat in order to control certain things in their lives.
Low self-esteem caused by bullying, overweight or other factors may also cause a person to control how much food they eat. Similarly, anxiety, anger, and loneliness are common risk factors for anxiety.
Family history and genetics
The appearance of anorexia may also be related to the history of the disease in the family. Studies have shown that if family members have lived with this eating disorder before, a person is 7 to 12 times more likely to suffer from this eating disorder.
However, although anorexia may be widespread among members of the same family, research on genetic connections is still inconclusive.
Nevertheless, the family environment is still fertile ground for this disease. People who are surrounded by parents/caregivers who over-control their children, or who have a strong focus on appearance, food, image, and/or weight increase the chance of anorexia.
In some cases, the habits formed in daily life may be the cause of anorexia.
People who observe irregular eating behaviors, also called eating disorders, may be moving towards eating disorders. Similarly, people working in image-centric industries (such as modeling) may feel pressured to maintain their appearance through unhealthy eating habits. The same is true for ballet dancers or sports stars in long-distance running and other fields, where weight loss is an advantage.
For a long time, the media has clearly reflected the social standards for assessing thinner bodies. In TV and movies, we often see thin protagonists—sometimes larger characters are made fun of or ridiculed.
Many clothing stores have limited sizes and are only suitable for thinner bodies. Magazines often tout the latest diets designed to lose weight during the “bikini season.” These messages all express the importance of weight loss-even suggest that weight loss will be happier and more successful.
The obsession with appearances on social media also encourages vulnerable people to restrict their diet to adapt to the ideals of beauty.
How is anorexia diagnosed?
People with this eating disorder usually show many identifiable characteristics. Physically speaking, patients with anorexia will experience underweight or significant weight loss within a few weeks/months.
However, it is important to note that a person does not need to be underweight to develop anorexia.
For example, atypical anorexia is a diagnosis with the psychological and behavioral symptoms of anorexia nervosa, including restricted diet; however, people with atypical anorexia have various weights.
Worrying developments, such as memory loss, irregular menstruation, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, brittle nails, sleep problems, and even purple hands and feet, are often accompanied by anorexia. A person will show unusual concerns about weight, food, diet, and may perform cleansing behaviors.
Anorexia can also cause depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In order to correctly diagnose this condition, the doctor will evaluate a person’s food thoughts and behaviors, their eating patterns, their weight and body shape, and their perceptions of their body.
Family history of eating disorders and mental health disorders will also be assessed. Tests can also be performed to determine the severity of the condition and its impact on health.
Ultimately, a person’s attitudes towards weight and food and their weight classification determine whether a diagnosis of anorexia will be made.
Other conditions similar to anorexia
Although anorexia has its unique characteristics, not all cases of underweight or indifferent to food should be considered as eating disorders. Similar conditions are discussed below.
One of the first signs of cancer is unexplained weight loss. Approximately 40% of people with various cancers report this loss after receiving a cancer diagnosis.This situation is called Cachexia-Changes outlined in fatigue, loss of skeletal muscle and appetite, and decreased quality of life.
When the body produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, this can lead to weight loss and the appearance of underweight. This is usually caused by an increase in the rate at which the body uses energy.
When a person is sensitive to gluten, this may have an impact on weight loss. Changes in weight may be related to abdominal crises. Here, the body will experience diarrhea, dehydration, and changes in the way food is processed, all of which can lead to weight loss.
Other symptoms that may be similar to anorexia include malabsorption and irritable bowel syndrome.
How to treat anorexia
In the management of anorexia, the target areas will include weight gain, improvement of eating habits, and correction of mental/emotional patterns that may encourage unhealthy eating behaviors. This can be achieved using the methods listed below.
There are different treatments that can improve a person’s attitude towards his appearance and nutrition. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be used to change weight loss behaviors such as fasting and purification. ACT is also known as “new wave CBT” or “third wave CBT”, and is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also change negative perceptions of appearance, food, and self-worth. It can also teach healthier attitudes towards these areas.
Other techniques include psychodynamic therapy, family-based therapy, and interpersonal therapy. Family-based treatment is one of the most widely used treatments for anorexia in children and adolescents.
Although drug therapy is not a first-line treatment, this measure becomes very important for severely ill patients. Olanzapine is often recommended for the treatment of depression and anxiety that may coexist with eating disorders. It has also been shown to promote weight gain.
When a person’s weight reaches a very low level, a period of professional care may be required. After you have consumed enough nutrients and noticed improvement, you can be referred to an inpatient facility to continue the recovery process.
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Anorexia is a serious disease, but it can be treated. The sooner you receive treatment for anorexia, the better the results. If you are fighting an eating disorder, here are resources available.
Try to contact a mental health professional. You can ask your primary care doctor to refer someone who specializes in treating eating disorders. With treatment, time, and patience, you can overcome anorexia.
If you or someone you love is dealing with an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline at 1-800-931-2237 for support. For more mental health resources, please refer to our national helpline database.