Obsessed with Weight Loss?

Turn on the TV, pick up any popular magazine, or simply listen to conversation among friends and coworkers, and you will inevitably hear mention of weight, diet, and weight loss. Slim physiques are highly prized, in Latino/Hispanic cultures and others. At the same time, however, we are bombarded with advertising for new snack foods, fast food restaurants, and other temptations. Most of us manage this dichotomy as best as we can; struggling perhaps with obesity and/or dieting when necessary to return to a healthier weight. For some individuals, however, weight loss becomes more than a challenge. It is an obsession which can result in dangerous health conditions, such as eating disorders.

There are several such disorders that may be related to a person’s mental state. Among the most common is anorexia nervosa. This is a disease which can be seen not only in teenage girls, but also in male adolescents and men and women of various ages. Usually a person with this disorder remains obsessed with losing weight in spite of thinness and is irrationally afraid of the mere thought of gaining a few pounds. Despite being thin to the point of medical danger, many believe they are overweight and avoid consuming any type of food. There are often underlying emotional issues affecting the person who is suffering from this disorder.

It is not uncommon for a man or woman with anorexia to starve, to avoid consuming all kinds of food, and to exercise constantly.

People sometimes confuse anorexia nervosa with bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder. Whereas in anorexia individuals avoid eating and feel anxious aversion to the consumption of food, in cases of bulimia nervosa individuals feel compelled to consume large amounts of food, often in secret. Afterwards, individuals with bulimia purge themselves of the food, usually by self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives.

The exact reasons why a person can develop anorexia nervosa are unknown. However, there are certain signs that can help identify whether someone is suffering from this disease. People with anorexia may have dry skin and hair that is too thin. The use of diuretics to remove fluid from the body can cause a decreased level of potassium, decreased reflexes, increased thirst, liver damage and cardiac arrhythmia.

According to the medical group of the American Academy of Family Physicians there are certain signals which indicate that a person may need to seek professional help as soon as possible:

• Refusal to consume food even though ravenously hungry
• Extreme fear of gaining weight
• Denial of hunger
• Constant exercising
• Increased body hair or facial hair
• Hair loss
• Sensitivity to cold temperatures
• In women, absent or irregular menstruation
• Strong belief that he/she is overweight when in reality he/she is too thin

In addition to these signals, people with anorexia are often in a bad mood. They can have difficulty concentrating and are usually thinking about food. They may be hungry but flatly refuse to eat. Unfortunately when the disease is not treated, a person may die as a result of entering a severe state of malnutrition due to lack of food.

Treatment of anorexia is not easy in many cases and the patient must accept that he/she has a problem. Usually a person with anorexia in its early stages, i.e., less than six months with the disease or with a small weight loss, can be treated successfully. However, it is extremely important that the person is motivated to change and has good support from friends and family.

When the disease has progressed, a person may need special care in a hospital. Treatment will often require more than changing eating habits. Often these patients may need counseling for a year or more so they can change the feelings that are causing their problems with eating. There are a number of situations that may be related to eating, such as family issues or problems related to a person’s self-esteem. In some cases a doctor may prescribe medication to help the patient feel less depressed.

One of the main features of this disease is the fear of gaining weight. Gaining weight is seen as a loss of control. If you find that you are concerned or obsessed about weight gain in spite of being within healthy weight limits for your height, seek help from a medical provider and/or mental health professional in your community.

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