What is Anorexia?
Anorexia Nervosa, or simply Anorexia, is an eating disorder which is considered to be a serious mental illness. It is characterized by an unnaturally obsessive fear of gaining weight. The person with this ailment compulsively finds ways to avoid putting on pounds and ends up looking merely undernourished and emaciated.
The word itself is derived from a combination of Greek words, which translate literally into “no appetite”. People with anorexia therefore try to restrict their intake of food, especially those that contain calories, in the belief that they will not turn “fat”. Some extreme cases are purging by vomiting and self-starvation. There are even some situations where the anorexic individual resorts to excessive use of laxatives, or over-exercise.
But the disorder does not merely involve a seemingly perverse need to be thin or to limit food intake. It is more psychological in nature – people with anorexia have been observed to have a lack of control in many aspects of their lives. Somehow, they feel they have finally accomplished something just by having control over their diet. However, their abnormal preoccupation with food and their weight only proves that whatever issues they have are simply being avoided and not resolved.
Anorexia mostly affects young women between the ages of 15 and 19, although men are known to suffer from this as well. It is more common in Western societies, and in places where the media and fashion proudly advertise the notion that “thin is sexy.” To this end, they have been deemed one of the contributing factors of anorexia. Other factors are:
- Genetics – personality traits, such as emotional sensitivity, perfectionism and perseverance are inherited and may create a tendency to be anorexic.
- Family and Learned Behavior – stringent beliefs within the family, such as importance of physical appearances and strict observance of social norms, can lead to eating disorders.
- Dieting – being overly particular about one’s food and weight can motivate a developing obsession about food, and thereby trigger anorexia.
Due to their unwavering convictions regarding their control of food, most people do not know they are already suffering the illness. This is the reason they often do not seek help for themselves and anorexia is not diagnosed. But early detection is important because anorexia is especially alarming as it is the cause of most deaths related to psychological disorders.
Malnutrition is normally the result of inadequate food intake. Severe malnutrition causes notable – and sometimes permanent – damage and impairment to several of the body’s vital organs, including the heart and kidneys. Specifically, these effects – which are also symptoms – can be any of the following:
- Unhealthy overall appearance (dry and thinning hair, dry skin, brittle nails)
- Loss of menstruation for women
- Low tolerance to cold
- Constipation and bloating
- Cardiovascular problems such as palpitations, chronically low blood pressure and heart rate, and in worst cases, total heart failure
- Kidney stones or kidney failure
- Weakened immune system
- Chemical imbalance in the brain often leading to depression
- Nerve damage can also occur in severe cases, evidenced by a mild paralysis or numbness in feet or legs
Psychotherapy is a recommended solution to address the psychological problem. Once treatment starts, it is highly necessary to show utmost support to the patient. No drug treatments are available to “cure” anorexia itself, but there are medications to help with the other disorders associated with the sickness, such as anxiety and depression. However, there are many natural remedies that can be utilized instead, and these are neither harmful nor contain side-effects, and are in fact quite beneficial in the long run.
Herbal remedies that are frequently used for anorexic patients contain herbs that de-stress the mind and soothe the senses, such as Lavender, Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm), and Passiflora Incarnata. Other herbs, such as St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) work to improve self-esteem and eliminate moodiness, aiding in faster and less troublesome recovery.