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The Eating Disorder Called Anorexia

What usually starts as an ‘innocent’ weight loss programme could spiral into an eating disorder stemming from low self-esteem and the understanding that one is ‘fat and therefore ugly’. This eating disorder if not checked could become ‘bulimic’ if not ‘anorexic’ with untold consequencies, writes Nwakaego Ohaegbulam

Rose was a 20-year-old overweight teenager. Growing up, she was a typical girl-next-door; jovial, outspoken and fun to be around until when she got to her third year in a Nigerian university as a Material and Metallurgical Engineering student. Probably because of her choice of friends (who were slim and considered pretty by boys), Rose began to feel insecure while her self-esteem experienced a decline. To make matters worse, she hated herself and became angry with herself.

Initially, she could skip a meal or two in a day and supplement with fruits and vegetables; later she added rigorous exercises which she did three times daily to the regimen and before long, she stopped taking food as well as fruits and vegetables.

Her mother who used to encourage her to keep up the weight loss programme started getting worried when she noticed that Rose vomited every food she put in her mouth, her pale look, shrunken skin, low self esteem and frequent bouts of depression. Trust a true Nigerian mother, she took to prayers, counseling and even scolding where possible while drawing Rose’s attention to the dangers of anorexia.

To cut the story short, while Rose succeeded in reducing her dress size from a size 16 to a size 10 in just 6 months earning the name ‘mosquito’ from worried friends, she realized that she still felt insecure. But for her mom’s perseverance and the intervention of friends and relations, who knows, probably by now, Rose would have become part of the statistics of those killed by anorexia.

Anorexia is an eating disorder, which has existed for over some time now. It actually started gaining prominence sometime in the early 2000’s when run-way models were made to maintain a certain weight in order to renew their modeling contracts. Not long after that the modeling world was hit by the ‘size zero’ models who practically took over the scene with their pale and gaunt looking physique which got nutritionists and human rights agents screaming for a reversal and for modeling agencies to put an end to this raving madness.

Despite the cries, in 2013 about 600 models and women lost their lives to anorexia, as they were unable to hold any food they put into their body. Truth be told, does being slim make a person bold or more beautiful? Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by food restriction, odd eating habits or rituals, obsession with having a thin figure, and an irrational fear of weight gain.

It is accompanied by a distorted body self-perception, and typically involves excessive weight loss. It has been increasingly diagnosed since 1950. Nationaleatingdisorder.org said that anorexia is a serious, potentially life threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. This means that the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally forcing it to slow down all its processes to conserve energy. The disease could start out unsuspectingly with harsh dieting, intense exercise and or the use of laxatives. Overtime, the person’s self image becomes distorted and the individuals start to see themselves as too fat thus continuing the unhealthy weight loss behaviours.

As time goes on, the person becomes very weak, develops a variety of health issues often times they show signs of depression; in extreme cases, it leads to death. Contrary to widely held beliefs that   anorexia affects those in the modeling industry, health experts say anorexia could affect anyone especially those with genetic predisposition.

Wikipedia says that people in professions where there is a particular social pressure to be thin like models and dancers were more likely to develop anorexia and those with anorexia have much higher contact with cultural sources that promote weight loss. This trend is also observed in people who partake in certain sports. It added that there was a higher incidence and prevalence of anorexia nervosa in sports with an emphasis on aesthetics, where low body fat was advantageous and sports in which one has to make weight for competition. Closely related to anorexia nervosa is bulimia nervosa which is a type of anorexia that is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (i.e. binge-eating or binging) and feeling a lack of control over eating, which is followed by a ‘compensating’ behavior for the binge such as purging but in this case, it is usually self induced, fasting and or excessive exercises.

Like people with anorexia, those suffering from bulimia are scared of gaining weight and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape; they also have coexisting psychological illnesses such as depression, anxiety and or substance abuse problems. Another type of anorexia is the Restricting type whereby the individual uses restricting food intake, fasting, diet pills or exercise as a means of losing weight. Such individuals may exercise to keep off weight or prevent weight gain and some may eat just enough quantity of food the need to stay alive.

The health consequences of anorexic disorder as enumerated by the nationaleatingdisorder. org include abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure; the risk for heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower; reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones; muscle loss and weakness; severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure. Others are fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness; dry hair and skin, hair   loss is common; Growth of a downy layer of hair called ‘lanugo’ all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

With many loosing their lives to this gradual killing sickness, one woman – Rachael Farrokh suffering from anorexia is speaking out about her illness in the hopes that she might save herself and probably others battling the disease. The 37-year-old Rachael Farrokh who lives in San Clemente, California, has been anorexic for a decade and is currently fighting for her life. The former actress was said to have weighed a healthy 125 pounds, but after she began suffering with anorexia, her weight began to plummet so badly to an extent that at five-footseven, she weighs a mere 40-something pounds’ and she is close to death.

She said it was ‘innocent’ at first because she wanted to drop a few pounds and get better abs until a sudden job loss as a Senior Account Executive and a painful memory from her past had allowed anorexia to creep in. In a video released on youtube.com, a gaunt-looking Farrokh while stating that most people are too ashamed to talk about it because “You are in constant pain and you feel you deserve it, so it hits you biologically, mentally, and definitely emotionally;” admitted that she needed help. She also went ahead to describe her condition as shameful, painful, extremely difficult, depressing and dangerous to overcome. However, she said the recovery process was ridiculous and she hoped her story would inspire others suffering from eating disorders to seek help. According to a GoFundMe page set up by her husband Edmondson, she has experienced heart, liver and kidney failure, osteoporosis, blood clots and edema.

He had to quit his job to care for his wife full time. The couple said most hospitals and treatment facilities refused to take Farrokh because she didn’t meet their minimum weight requirement. Edmondson said her recovery process requires a method called ‘refeeding’, where patients’ bodies are slowly introduced to food and nutrients. However, it would have side effects as the body is suddenly forced to adapt to the introduction of nutrients. Dr. Michael Strober, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorder programme at the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, in a media chat explained that the refeeding process of people suffering from anorexia can be extremely risky. “Refeeding syndrome results from metabolic changes that are associated with feeding an individual who has been calorie-depleted. So, the feeding needs to be carefully monitored.

Too rapid increase of calories can result in the metabolic adaptation which is associated with a number of hazards, which can be life-threatening” Strober said. Anorexic people have a distorted perception of their bodies. Anorexia is a psychological problem and the easiest solution is for one to learn to appreciate oneself the way he or she is. People need to start improving their self-perception and self-esteem while identifying better means to tackle emotional and psychological problems which life most definitely would throw their way

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