Anorexia Nervosa - What is it, Causes, and Risk Factors

Anorexia Nervosa - What is it, Causes, and Risk Factors

Ever since we hit teenage years, our obsession with oh-so-perfect chiseled bodies has only grown manifold. The umpteen glossy fashion magazines today often propagate the idea that ‘thin is beautiful’, thereby putting women into the deep, dark abyss of ‘body image’ issues. Once you fall into this trap, you are at a high risk of developing eating disorders, the most common being Anorexia Nervosa or Anorexia.  

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that develops in those who have an inferiority complex about their bodies. They generally consume very limited quantities of food that leads to starvation and makes them dangerously thin and malnourished. What’s more, even after being so thin, the patients perceive themselves to be overweight. In most cases, patients become so undernourished that they need intensive medical care. 

There are two categories of anorexia - one that is linked to another eating disorder called bulimia, while the second manifests itself through severe restriction of food. The former is characterised by ‘bingeing and purging’, wherein a person consumes calories and then forcefully vomits.

In both cases, the patient has a severe obsession about food or weight. Some people also have unusual eating habits - they might not eat in front of others or shy away from arranging food in a certain way.  While they do care about food, they generally prepare meals for their families but keep themselves away from all the calories. What’s more, despite consuming very little food, they follow a rigorous exercise regimen.  

What causes Anorexia?

While the exact cause of anorexia is unknown, studies suggest that it might sometimes run in the family. If your mother or sister suffer or ever suffered from an eating disorder in their teenage years, you are most likely to develop anorexia. 

Besides, there are other psychological and social factors that cause anorexia. Those who suffer from this eating disorder believe that their lives would be perfect, only if they were thinner. In fact, it has been commonly observed that the patients are generally perfectionists and have maintained a good record in school. Sometimes, anorexia is more about compensating for unresolved childhood trauma.  

Risk Factors of Anorexia Nervosa

While doctors can't pinpoint the reason for anorexia, here are some of the risk factors involved:

- If you are a woman, you are at a high risk of developing anorexia or other eating disorders

- Higher body mass index during childhood

- In case someone suffered from anorexia or related disorders in your family

- An abnormal functioning of brain chemicals that control hunger and eating

- Peer pressure to look a certain way

- Difficulty in communication

- History of being rebuked due to weight

- History of sexual or physical abuse

- Body image issues

- Low self-esteem

- Lack of family or social support

- Depression, anxiety, or stress

In case you know people with these visible signs, you can sit them down and try to have a heart-to-heart conversation with them. While most of them are opposed to any advice, let them know that being obsessed with a ‘thin body type’ is not the answer to most problems. Also, try and build their self-esteem and tell them that perfectionism is only an illusion.  

Early Detection

As mentioned above, if you observe any warning signs of anorexia in a loved one - eating less, losing drastic weight, constant complaining about being fat, or obsessing over exercise - then reach out to them in these ways: 

Read a little about anorexia: Before you speak to your loved one, try educating yourself about anorexia, so that you know what to say.

Support them: Let them know that you’re worried and reassure them that you are there, no matter what.

Convince them to get medical help: While most anorexic patients feel there’s nothing wrong with them, it is important for them to see a medical practitioner. This will help the disorder from getting worse.

Praise them: Since these patients have low self-esteem, even a little compliment will go a long way in boosting their morale. Make them feel good about themselves!

Be a role model: Eat healthy and maintain a positive relationship with food. Besides, follow a regular exercise regime. This could inspire your loved one to follow your footsteps. 

While these tips might help to contain the situation, it is important to understand that all of us are different, but beautiful in our own way. It’s time to love our body and give it all the care and nourishment it deserves. 

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