Emaciation and Eating Disorders: Is It A Common Occurrence?

The term “emaciation” refers to a state of being extremely gaunt and weak. Emaciation in human beings is a symptom of critical malnourishment and starvation. Luckily, cases of emaciation due to eating disorders are not a common occurrence. However, as rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa continue to rise around the world, it seems likely that the rate of emaciation in humans could also increase. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, impacts, and treatment options for emaciation in people with eating disorders.

What Causes Emaciation?

Tragically, the most common cause of emaciation around the world is poverty. Although research is scarce, it is likely that eating disorders are the second most impactful cause of emaciation in humans. As previously mentioned, emaciation is brought on by severe caloric and nutritional restriction. Because emaciation requires such an extreme level of food deprivation, it is likely that people with anorexia nervosa are most at risk of emaciation.

In case you aren’t aware, anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by very restrictive eating, fear of gaining weight, denial of previous weight loss, distorted body image, and obsessive or compulsive behavior towards food.
Impacts of Emaciation

Physical effects: In addition to causing chronic fatigue and weakness, emaciation is also associated with a wide range of high-risk nutritional deficiencies. As a result, emaciation puts people at higher risk of a compendium of health risks, including osteoporosis, infertility, sudden cardiac arrest, and several forms of cancer.

Psychological effects: The psychological consequences of living in a state of emaciation are immeasurable. Prior to treatment, people with emaciation may experience intense anxiety, body revulsion, and profound melancholy or depression. Prolonged emaciation can also cause psychological distress at a neurological level, preventing sleep and impairing mental development.

Treatment for Emaciation

The first step to treating an emaciated individual is addressing the underlying psychological issues underpinning their eating disorder. If you know someone who is suffering from emaciation due to an eating disorder, we strongly recommend that you seek help and advice from a nutritional therapist or doctor.

After agreeing to treatment, an individual in a state of emaciation will likely need several weeks of intensive hospital care and support. Due to the high risk of refeeding syndrome, people who are emaciated will need to undergo very slow re-nourishment, usually via salted broth and thin soups. After the risk of refeeding syndrome passes, an emaciated individual may slowly begin introducing solid foods back into their diet.

Sources: Science Direct, National Eating Disorders Collaboration

Photo: Pexels

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