It is often referred to as Anorexia, it is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin and food restriction. Self-starvation is a principal symptom in Anorexia, usually undergone by males and females, not restricted to the female gender as often publicized. This is usually fuelled by the media perception of an ideal body shape i.e. dress size 6 and below, the elusive thigh gap, the visibility of the collar bones and some other fashion fads that come up every day.
It is completely human to wish you looked different or there was that part of your body that you wished were a lot skinnier, but when your eating habits takes control of your life it is termed an EATING DISORDER. I usually characterize Anorexia as not just an eating disorder but a mental issue, it is usually associated with depression, loneliness, insecurity, misplaced pressure to be perfect…. Things that no amount of dieting or weight loss can occur which leads to the obsession. Many people with Anorexia are in self-denial and never seem to think they have reached their ideal weight even if their BMI indicates that they are malnourished and underweight. Their mantra is always “no matter how skinny they are, it is never enough”. Weight loss is usually achieved by excessive exercising, forceful vomiting, restricting diet intake, counting calories and fat content of food, fasting, using laxative and diuretics to purge.
Anorexia nervosa, and the associated malnutrition that result from self-starvation would definitely cause complications in every organ of the body. Complications may include osteoporosis, infertility, hormonal imbalances, delayed or absence of menstruation in females, heart damage amongst others.
The exact cause of Anorexia or any other eating disorder is not known but it is ascertained that cultural factors appear to play a role in societies that value thinness/slenderness which leads to exhibition of higher rates of the disease. The media also seem to play a deciding factor and influence with the promotion of unrealistic skinny body sizes that are being term as “IDEAL” which tends to aggravate body image issues and body dissatisfaction.
In addition to cultural pressures to be thin, there are other family and social pressures that can contribute to Anorexia, this involves participating in activities that value thinness such as high-level athletics, ballet, modelling, gymnastics and dancing. Ironically, athletes are often overlooked as anorexia-prone. Also having parents who are overly controlling, emphasize on looks, diets; and criticize their children body or appearance can also trigger Anorexia.
Since this disorder involves both MIND and BODY, treatment should be undertaken from both angles. The participation of family members also make a difference in treatment. Specialists may include doctors (to help with physical complications), dieticians (to help with healthy eating and proper nutrition) and psychologist or counsellors (treatment of mental illness and removal of negative behaviors and thoughts that might have set off the eating disorder).
Globally, Anorexia is estimated to affect more than 4 million people and still counting. Approximately 0.6% of young females are affected in a given year and it is estimated to occur ten times less commonly in males. In Africa, not including South Africa, the only data presenting information about eating disorders occurs in case reports and isolated studies. Eating disorders increases a person’s risk of death. About 5% of people with Anorexia die from complications.
Some of our loved ones and people around us battle with body image issues and eating disorders such as Anorexia. Spreading awareness of this disease, encouraging an anorexic friend or family member to get treatment is the most caring and supportive that you can be.