‘Eating’ Maladies

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

The classification of eating disorders is subject to inconsistency. The diverse frames of reference too ‘mirror’ beliefs about cause and pathology, no less, along with varied psychological underpinnings.

Besides, what may have led to gender-related ‘apepsia hysterica’ in the early nineteenth century, has a new name today — anorexia nervosa.

In recent times, eating disorders have expanded to include a variety of disorders, typified by the frenzied pattern of ‘not eating’ to ‘binge-eating.’ Add to it bulimia nervosa, with an excessive concern about weight and shape, and you have behaviours keyed to recompense the effects of eating.

New research suggests that bulimia nervosa is just an exaggerated variation of anorexia nervosa, although a majority of bulimia nervosa cases, as some clinicians believe, are not preceded by episodes of anorexia nervosa.

A Health Hazard

Eating disorders affect more women — nearly 90 per cent — than men. The exact nature, or cause, of this statistical upsurge is not known, although eating disorders have no socio-economic, ethnic and cultural barriers. No one, as research suggests, is, perforce, exempt from its clutches, sometime, or the other.

Factors that determine eating disorders are low confidence, depression, anxiety, anger, being alone, troubled family, or personal relationships, emotional problems, being taunted about size, or weight, or physical abuse.

Other factors may include cultural pressures that celebrate ‘size-zero,’ thinness, or the ‘perfect body,’ not to speak of biochemical, or biological variants, besides a strong family history of eating disorders.

Research indicates that death rates from eating disorders are among the highest for any emotional illness.

Now — to go back to the basics. There are, as outlined earlier, two primary forms of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa

This presents with self-starvation, or refusal to maintain a minimum normal body weight. Individuals with the eating disorder often engage in self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, or excess exercise, in order to ‘control’ their weight. They also see themselves as overweight, even though they are extremely thin. When the fad ‘not to eat’ becomes extreme, death is a lurking possibility.

Symptoms

  • Weight loss; sometimes severe
  • A strong fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image and electrolyte imbalance
  • Irregular heart rhythms, heart failure, bone disorders, menstrual problems and suicidal tendencies.

Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals with this disorder exhibit a mysterious, uncontrolled eating routine, followed by inappropriate ways of purging the body of food before it is digested.

Symptoms

  • Vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pills, excessive exercise, or fasting
  • A tendency to ‘binge and purge’ privately [Individuals having bulimia often maintain normal, or above the normal body, weight — this is because they try to conceal their ‘purging bouts’ from others, including family and friends]
  • Feelings of self-disgust, awkwardness, electrolyte imbalance, heart muscle damage, inflammation of the gullet [oesophagus], wearing away of the tooth enamel and damage to salivary glands
  • High blood pressure [hypertension], heart disease, diabetes and disorders of the gall bladder.

Self-Help: Anorexia

  • Don’t diet haphazardly; design a meal plan that gives your body all the nutrition it needs. Exercise for 30 minutes, 4-5 times a week
  • Ask for an honest, objective opinion of your weight. If your loved ones say you are normal weight, thin, or fat, believe them
  • When you start to ‘feel fat,’ take steps to deal with the threat [real, or unreal]
  • Seek professional Ayurveda/homeopathic treatment early; don’t let the anorexia ‘phantom’ get the better of your life.

Self-Help: Bulimia

  • Don’t get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, too tired, or too bored, or have too much of time. Deal with them, instead of letting the tension build up
  • Enjoy being with friends and loved ones. This has a healing effect
  • Take control of your life. Make choices; make life safe and comfortable
  • Do something funny every day, something relaxing, or something uplifting
  • Keep a note, or diary, about your feelings. Ask yourself how you feel; stop yourself in your track, the moment you feel uncomfortable
  • Seek professional Ayurveda/homeopathic treatment early; don’t let the bulimia ‘tag’ get the better of your life.

Obesity

Obesity as a psychological condition was not part of the early, or old, psychiatric classification. Today, it is — even when a majority of cases of obesity do not fulfil the necessary criteria for inclusion as a psychiatric disorder, or a clinically significant behavioural, or psychological, syndrome that causes distress, or disability.

Global epidemic

Excess weight is a global epidemic, a disease, a sign of illness — a complex syndrome.  Thanks to its growing incidence, obesity is being studied as closely as any other serious disease.

New research implicates genetic, emotional, metabolic, sociological and environmental factors as causative factors. Excess weight also has a strong predisposition in children. Some endocrinologists suggest that the hereditary aspect may not be largely congenital — present at birth — although final overweight, or excess weight, may be a direct consequence of ‘the clean plate syndrome,’ which some mothers persevere with as a ‘rule’ for their children.

For many of us, eating to our heart’s content is everything. Our heart’s wish is fulfilled, all right. What about weight?

We also add far too much weight more quickly than the time you’d take to say, ‘I want to lose weight.’

Do we all become habitual eaters? Or, gluttons? Do we actually get hungrier, physically? Or, do we simply eat more?

It is all in your mind and body, celebration, or no celebration — because, what you eat determines what, or who, you are.

What You Eat…

Overweight problems arise primarily in relation to your attitude to food, weight and body size. They also project your emotional status: whether or not you have a rigid approach to eating and/or exercise.

Put simply, your eating ‘habits’ can make, or break, your health and happiness. The longer the belt, as it is rightly said, the shorter the life.

Fat people are often thought of as jolly, good folks, all right. That’s the good news. The bad news is they are gloomily identified as candidates for an early heart attack. Agreed that this observation may be a sweeping statement of facts, but the hazards of being overweight are serious in an increasingly health-conscious world.

… Is What You Get

Overweight is defined as “abnormal high body weight due to excessive accumulation of body fat.”  There are certain ethnic differences in the distribution of subcutaneous fat, yet the general cause of the disorder is plain overeating. Besides, excess weight may also result from unusual retention of water, abnormal muscular development, some tumours, including a few endocrinal/hormonal disorders.

Life expectancy of overweight individuals, after the age of 35, is often associated with a death rate much higher than that of people with ‘normal’ weight.

While increased body weight places a greater load on the circulatory system, regulation of body temperature is as much affected due to reduced heat insulating effect.

This, in turn, brings on copious sweating and also a host of serious illnesses — from heart disease to diabetes.

Role Of Diet

Research evidences that if you substantially reduce the intake of calories, without reducing your nutritional intake, you will live longer. In addition, you will remain healthier with fewer health issues, or illnesses.

  • Eat at least 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This will provide you with all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre you need with relatively few calories
  • Drink more water and add more natural fibre, such as flaxseed, to your diet. This is an ideal combination to make you feel full, even though you consume fewer calories. It will also reduce your risk of serious illness, or disease
  • When your weight goal is reached ideally at the end of six months, your body would have adapted itself to your new regimen and needs, so much so that even with your reduced intake of food, you will still be able to maintain your weight and also health.

Exercise

While you are reducing your intake of food, it is also imperative that you increase your physical activity. This will not only decrease your waistline, it will also help your heart and lungs to work better, improve your mood, give you a sound night’s sleep and decrease your risk of serious illness, or disease.

Relaxation techniques are just as useful— they help to ease your level of stress, which is also one of the primary causes of obesity.

Self-Help

  • Avoid high-fat-content meat and meat products; this will help to prevent weight gain and fight obesity
  • Avoid pork, or turkey bacon, and hot dogs; fried meat; doughnut and french fries. They are fattening
  • Avoid sweets and sugary foods; they increase blood sugar levels. This causes the body to ‘up’ the release of insulin. Insulin removes sugar from the blood stream — this gets stored as fat. Sodas too have high sugar content; this makes them as harmful as candy bars and other sweets. Besides, they may cause tooth decay and heart disease. Some ‘diet sodas’ have been linked to cancer too
  • Consume low-fat dairy products, foods rich in starch, fibre, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and lots of water. They are good for you; they add health to your years and years to your health.

Ayurveda

Eating disorders are psychological disorders that cause serious disturbances in our everyday life. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. The salient feature of anorexia is a refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight. Binge-eating disorder is characterised by repeated episodes of binge eating, in the absence of purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. Eating disorders are treatable medical illnesses and co-exist with other illnesses, such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. Some symptoms can become life-threatening, if the person does not receive appropriate treatment. Ayurveda, India’s traditional and most ancient system of health, has a unique approach about eating disorders and may offer useful insights to individuals suffering from them. Every human body is comprised of different amount of each doshas, known as prakruti. Depending on which dosha is predominant in the body, there are cues why specific eating disorders may be present. Ayurveda promulgates treatment according to a particular dosha and prakruti involved, along with psychotherapy. This holds the key to useful treatment outcomes.

  • Dr Neha Singh, et al. “Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder — An Ayurvedic Insight.” World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 9, 1338-1344, 2016.

There is increasing public awareness of the health implications of obesity. Many patients are seeking medical help for their overweight issues, more so when they present with one or more complications of obesity, while increasing numbers are being identified during health screening examinations. WHO states that about 250 million cases of obesity are being reported every year. Many efforts are being made to find a reliable remedy for this ‘burning’ problem. Hence, a host of concepts and medicines are introduced by the modern practitioner, but they are not free from side-effects. In Ayurveda, sthaulya [obesity] is a condition, where due to aggravation of doshas, there is improper transformation of nutrition, while a surge of medodhatu is formed and inappropriate nutrition ‘ups’ other dhatus in the body. Ayurveda manages such conditions with multiple concepts of correcting the dhatu and doshas. Many medohara drugs have been mentioned, and they can be used, albeit the selection of the most appropriate Ayurveda drug should be made accurately on the basis of patient’s physiology, more so with respect to dosha, desha, kala etc., — for ushering in safe and useful treatment outcomes.

  • Dr Kusum Lata Bhatt & Dr Abdul Khader. “Obesity: An Ayurveda Prospective.” Journal of Ayurveda and Integrated Medical Sciences, 5[04], 328-331; 2020.

Homeopathy

Background. Homeopathy seeks to treat holistically. The role of homeopathy for treating binge eating, however, remains poorly explored.

Objective. To determine the efficacy of individualised homeopathic treatment on binge eating.

Method. This was a nine-week pilot study using a case study design. Individualised homeopathic remedies were prescribed to each participant for six weeks and case analysis evaluated changes over time.

Results. All participants reported a decrease in the severity and frequency of binging behaviour; concurrent improvements in general health were also noted.

Conclusion. This pilot study shows the potential benefits of individualised homeopathic treatment in binge eating in males.

  • Radmila Razlog, et al, “Case Studies on the Homeopathic Treatment of Binge Eating in Adult Males.” Health SA Gesondheid, Volume 21, 294-302, December 2016.

Homeopathy helps to regulate and correct eating disorders, obesity and obesity-related problems in conjunction with lifestyle and dietetic changes. There are no negative outcomes, but only good, positive effects with homeopathic treatment. However, since being eating disorders, or overweight, or obese, is more than a complex syndrome, treatment is best initiated and monitored by a professional homeopathic physician at the clinic.

Homeopathic medicines correct the underlying problem, too — overeating, stress, endocrinal problems and so on — as also the cause of obesity. From the ‘root,’ and not just its mere manifestation.

Homeopathy takes into account the fact that no two obese individuals, for instance, present with identical problems. Each of us is distinctive. It, therefore, looks at the person in toto, including the origin, or the basis of eating problems, and obesity. To highlight an example: a moody, overweight lady, or teenager, who loves cookies and french fries, especially while watching TV, will benefit from the homeopathic remedy Pulsatilla nigricans, whereas a fat child, or adult, who craves eggs, has thyroid problems, and is stubborn by temperament, will respond to Calcarea carbonicum.

For optimal results, homeopathy recommends lifestyle changes and nutritional balance. Most importantly, it distils the person’s physical, emotional and psychological aspects, including sensitivities and sensibilities — to bring about a long-lasting change towards health and also healthy weight.

This results not in suppression, or recurrence, of the problem, after cessation of a given treatment plan, but natural restoration of optimal health and well-being.

There are no rigid dietetic restrictions, though. Homeopathy believes that the best approach is to lose weight — not one’s health — naturally, gently, and gradually, while keeping a close watch on one’s body mass composition, including optimal diet, under the guidance of a professional homeopathic physician.

Homeopathy also emphasises that for obesity discretion is the often the better part of valour —

  • Many of us would benefit from eating a bit less and exercising more in order to improving our health and fitness levels
  • Watching what you eat is not a disorder. Not watching and eating is.
Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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