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Feeding and Diet

When dieting goes a bit too far

"I am on a diet", how often have you heard that from many of the people you meet everyday! In fact the word diet comes from the Greek word diaita, which literally means, “manner of living” and not just a reduction in calorie intake, as many may think.

Actually, a healthy diet or “way of eating” involves following a varied and balanced meal plan combined with adequate physical activity. However, when dieting becomes excessive and involves obsessive behaviors regarding food and weight, it is no longer considered a diet and becomes an eating disorder.

Eating disorders have serious health consequences and they include several types, with the two major ones being Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Usually more prevalent among women and adolescents than men, Anorexia is usually characterized by a significant weight loss because of excessive dieting. Generally, individuals with Anorexia starve themselves to a state beyond thinness, and will still think they are fat!

Unsurprisingly, Anorexics are usually very thin and weigh themselves repetitively. They count their calories and weigh their food obsessively, eating very little and often refusing to admit that they are skipping meals.

What are the health complications of Anorexia? Being severely underweight will disrupt hormone levels, resulting in ovulatory dysfunction, which might cause a menstrual cycle to stop (amenorrhea). It could also lead to severe constipation due to a lack of food, which slows down the motility of intestines. Other health complications include anemia, low blood pressure, dehydration and irregular heartbeats.

What is Bulimia Nervosa? And what are its health implications?

This disorder is characterized by episodes of eating and purging. People with Bulimia (Bulimics) usually have recurrent episodes of binge eating, in which they will eat to the extent of discomfort to satisfy hunger. This is followed by a felling of guilt, leading them to remove all food consumed in order to get rid of those consumed calories and avoid gaining weight. Purging includes self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting or exercising vigorously. Unlike Anorexics, people with Bulimia aren't always underweight, their weight would be within normal limits and they don't usually experience the cessation of menstrual periods.

Health complications Excessive vomiting leads usually to dental caries and damaged gums. It might also cause sores in the throat and mouth. In addition, the excessive use of laxatives and diuretics would lead to the body losing much of its water, thus leading to dehydration. What’s more, irregular eating behavior might lead to depression and anxiety, mainly because bulimics are in a continuous cycle of guilt for eating excessive quantities of food, followed by extreme compensatory behaviors to make up for the binges. Other complications include irregular heartbeats and periods.

In the end, eating disorders are a serious complication with life threatening results. This is why it is good to know about them. So if you have a friend or family member with such symptoms, support them and advise them about the need for psychological and nutritional counseling. Lastly, and most importantly, remember thinner doesn't always mean healthier.