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Women Site > Personal > Health and Fitness >

Eating disorders in young women

Mary is a 23 year old woman who is experiencing a serious problem in her life. In the last 6 months, she has lost 40 pounds, going from a healthy 133 pounds to only 93 pounds. Although she appears emaciated, Mary still perceives herself as being overweight and in need of weight loss. She eats very little food, mainly carrot sticks and diet soda, and is fearful that if she does eat she will gain weight. The obvious danger of Mary's condition it that it is life-threatening. She is basically starving herself to death. Her friends and family have tried to convince her to eat and take care of herself, but to no avail. Not surprisingly, she does not think that she has a problem nor does she wish to speak to anyone about it.

 
What may come as a surprise is the fact Mary is Muslim and was raised in a Muslim home. She is one of the many in a growing phenomena in the Muslim community. What was once a condition mainly for non-Muslim has slowly crept into the Muslim Ummah (nation). Eating Disorders, mainly Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, are affecting young Muslim women, and in some rare cases, Muslim men as well. Let us take a closer look.
Eating disorders, primarily anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, have reached epidemic proportions in the West as the perception of beauty has moved toward an ideal that engenders body dissatisfaction and perpetual food restriction. Between 5 to 10 million women and up to 1 million boys and men in the United States are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder. The disease is also spreading into various communities and cultures of the world. Once thought of as a "culture-bound" syndrome, eating disorders are now appearing in such diverse countries as Pakistan, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, and Czechoslovakia. As already mentioned, Muslim women have not been immune to this proliferating illness.
 
What are eating disorders?
 
The two main eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. Many of these deaths are not attributed directly to an eating disorder itself, rather to an eating disorder complication such as esophageal rupture, heart failure, stroke, or suicide. Bulimia Nervosa is also a serious and potentially life-threatening, and is characterized by a secretive cycle of binging and purging. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can impact the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organs.
 
Anorexia nervosa: the relentless pursuit of thinness
 
-         Person refuses to maintain normal body weight for age and height.
 
-         Weighs 85% or less than what is expected for age and height.
 
-         In women, menstrual periods stop. In men levels of sex hormones fall.
 
-         Young girls do not begin to menstruate at the appropriate age.
 
-         Is terrified of gaining weight even though she/he is markedly under-weight.
 
-         In addition, anorexia nervosa often includes depression, irritability, withdrawal, and peculiar behaviors such as compulsive rituals, strange eating habits, and division of foods into "good/safe" and "bad/ dangerous" categories.
 
Bulimia nervosa: the diet-binge-purge disorder
 
-         Eats large quantities of food in short periods of time, often secretly, without regard to feelings of "hunger" or "fullness."
 
-         Feels out of control while eating.
 
-         Vomits, misuses laxatives, exercises, or fasts to get rid of the calories.
 
-         Diets when not bingeing. Becomes hungry and binges again.
 
-         Believes self-worth requires being thin.
 
-         Weight may be normal or near normal unless anorexia is also present.
 
-         Like anorexia, bulimia can be life-threatening.
 
-         Even though bulimics put up a brave front, they are often depressed, lonely, anxious, and empty inside.
 
Warning signs of Anorexia Nervosa
 
-         Dramatic weight loss.
 
-         Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.
 
-         Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (i.e., no carbohydrates, etc.).
 
-         Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss.
 
-          Development of food rituals (i.e., eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
 
-         Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
 
-         Excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.
 
-         Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
 
-         In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
 
Warning signs of Bulimia Nervosa
 
-         Evidence of binge-eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or the existence of wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
 
-         Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.
 
-         Excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to "burn off” calories taken in.
 
-         Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
 
-         Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
 
-         Creation of complex lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
 
-         Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
 
-         In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
 
What are the causes?
 
Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of age, race, gender or
background. However, young women are most vulnerable, particularly between the ages of 15-25 years.
 
Research suggests that a person's genetic make up may make them more likely to develop an eating disorder. A significant person, such as a parent or relative, may adversely influence other family members through his or her attitudes to food. In situations where there are high academic expectations or social pressures, a person may focus on food and eating as a way coping with these stresses.
 
Traumatic events can trigger anorexia or bulimia nervosa: bereavement, being bullied or abused, family upheaval (such as divorce).
 
It is likely, as with other mental illnesses, that the root cause of this disorder is a spiritual one. From a spiritual perspective, weakening of Imaan (faith) may leave a personal vulnerable to this disorder. There are reports that both and anorexics and bulimics suffer from intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts that could be attributed to the workings of the jinn and Satan. Satan often manipulates the weaknesses of a human and this may be the case for people who suffer from eating disorders. It is important to understand that the illness could also be a test from Allah, as with other illnesses, but the treatment approach will be the same in either case.
 
Treatment options
 
When it comes to an eating disorder, seeking help and treatment is essential. There is no book or article that can professionally diagnose a person who is suffering from this disease; only a trained and qualified professional can. There are many treatment options available for those who have eating disorders. Always keep in mind that treatment is different for everyone and every person should be evaluated on an individual basis.
 

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