Underweight individuals are often ridiculed for their appearance and are regularly accused of being underweight as a result of something they have done wrong or because they are suffering from an eating disorder.
While this is the case for certain people, it is an unfair and unwarranted stereotype that can be psychologically damaging and hurtful to the person being assessed. The underweight are more likely to have their condition openly discussed in front of them because society does not have the same taboo associated with commenting on the underweight as they do for those that are obese.
Symptoms of Being Underweight
Symptoms of being underweight can vary depending on the cause of the condition. Two of the most common illnesses which lead to people being underweight are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa can include:
- An unnatural obsession with calories and fat intake
- Extreme self criticism of one’s physical appearance
- Denial of being too thin and attempts to disguise true appearance
- Compulsive exercise
- Pretending to eat or lying about eating
- Compulsive exercise
- Use of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics
Symptoms of bulimia nervosa can include:
- Binge eating
- Frequently checking weight
- Abuse of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics
- Self-induced vomiting, most notably following a binging episode
Many underweight people will have a weakened immune system as a result of poor nutrition, leading them to become ill much more often. Those that are underweight tend to feel tired quite often and may also experience dizziness and fainting spells. Women that are underweight may suffer from irregular periods, miss their periods from time to time or may not even menstruate at all.
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Causes of Being Underweight
There is an extensive list of potential causes for someone suffering from being underweight. Some of the more common causes are:
- Poverty – the homeless, the lower class, and those from impoverished third world countries are very susceptible to being underweight for the simple fact that they are often unable to properly nourish themselves. The lack of healthy food, whether a result of unavailability or not having the means to procure it, can lead to malnourishment and other diseases
- Anorexia nervosa – an eating disorder identified by the stark refusal of the afflicted individual to maintain a healthy body weight. Most often, those suffering from this disease have an unnatural fear of weight gain and getting fat revolving around a distorted image of themselves. This is a severe psychological illness with major physiological side effects.
- Bulimia nervosa – another eating disorder denoted by periods of binge eating followed by self induced vomiting, use of laxatives and diuretics, and excessive exercise to counteract the out of control eating that took place.
- Genetics – an individual’s genetic makeup can play a significant role in their physical appearance. Some people are simply programmed to be thinner than others as a result of their biological composition.
- Hyperthyroidism – this condition results in an overproduction of thyroid hormones. These hormones help to stimulate metabolism and can over stimulate the process if there is an excess supply introduced to the body.
- Drug use – illegal narcotics and overexposure to over the counter medications can cause severe problems, including weight loss. Drug users may become so disconnected from the world that they either forget to eat or lose their interest in doing so. For others, they may choose to use all available resources to secure more drugs, thus eliminating their means to acquire food to properly keep themselves nourished.
- Anxiety and depression – those who are nervous, stressed, or severely depressed can easily struggle to maintain proper weight. They may be too upset to eat properly or may have lost their desire or ability to keep themselves healthy.
- Other underlying diseases –illnesses such as cancer, tuberculosis, and ulcers can cause feelings of pain and nausea to patients when they try to eat. Constant suffering can lead people to avoid eating properly in an effort to circumvent these side effects which can lead to significant weight loss.
Risk Factors for Being Underweight
Rick factors for being underweight are not necessarily causes of the condition, but rather seem to be associated in one way or another. Having certain risk factors may increase the likelihood that someone will suffer from being underweight, but it does not necessarily mean they will become affected. Also, the absence of certain risk factors does not eliminate the possibility of becoming underweight.
Genetics plays a big role in determining whether someone is at risk of being underweight. Offspring of small statured, thin, and underweight parents are at greater risk of being underweight themselves.
Certain families seem to carry a set of genes that simply program their bodies to remain thin no matter what type or amount of food they eat. High levels of metabolism can carry from generation to generation, causing those affected to break down, burn, and dispose of the foods that they consume at a much more rapid pace than most.
Environmental Issues & Diseases
Environmental influences can also factor in to the likelihood that someone will become underweight. A society that stresses the importance of physical beauty, and gauges it based upon people’s body type and weight, can lead to an underweight population. Poor food supplies, both in volume and nutritional value, can also have an impact on weight.
Disease can have a tremendous impact on an individual’s weight. Serious illnesses such as cancer and HIV can wreak havoc on the body and have a significantly negative impact on healthy weight. Those suffering from chronic diseases often do not feel well enough to eat or are unable to keep their food down when they do feel hungry. A body fighting an infection burns more calories than normal, and failure to replenish essential nutrients can cause a person to lose a significant amount of weight.
Prevention Tips for Being Underweight
One of the most obvious sets of tips for preventing unhealthy weight loss is to follow the same guidelines that are recommended for just about everyone seeking a healthy lifestyle: eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest. Proper exercise and rest allow the body to recover from the rigorous day to day activities it is put through and help to increase the flow of nutrient rich blood to the vital organs. Healthy food provides the fuel needed to keep a body strong and functioning properly.
Regular physicals and medical checkups can help to identify developing diseases; diseases which can have a tremendously adverse affect on overall health, often leading to severe weight loss. Early detection can often prove to be advantageous to effective treatment of the illness and may prevent drastic and dangerous weight loss.
Testing and Diagnosis
Body Mass Index is the most common method used to diagnose someone as being underweight. BMI takes into account a person’s height in relation to their weight in order to calculate their body mass index.
This number is figured out by using the following formula: weight (in pounds) multiplied by 703, divided by the square of the height (in inches). It can also be calculated by dividing the weight (in kilograms) by the square of the height (in meters). A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 is normal, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and 30 and higher is considered obese.
The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) is one of the most widely used tests used to help evaluate symptoms and potential characteristics of those that may suffer from eating disorders. The test is not intended to take the place of a professional diagnosis or counseling, but rather as a starting point to help identify those that may be in need of further assistance. Individuals scoring 20 or above on the EAT-26 are instructed that they should be interviewed by a medical professional to see if they meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.
Treatment Options for Being Underweight
There are a myriad of treatments available for underweight individuals. There are herbal and home remedies as well as pharmaceutical remedies. Surgical remedies do not exist for those that are underweight since the only outcome would be purely cosmetic and offer no true health benefits to the patient.
Herbal and Home Remedies
Musk melon is a popular choice as a natural remedy for being underweight. It is recommended that three melons be taken per day for forty days. It is customary to start with three kilograms daily and slowly increase the amount by one kilogram per day until the proper amount has been identified to satisfy hunger.
A steady diet full of essential vitamins and minerals is essential to maintaining a healthy weight.
Vitamin D, vitamin B6, magnesium and calcium are all vital for relaxation and can help to relax you and conserve essential energy. Milk, cod liver oil, and green leafy vegetables can provide a healthy and delicious dose of these basic nutrients.
Exercising to increase energy levels, thus increasing the desire to eat, can help to achieve necessary weight gain. Exercise can also lead to relaxation and better sleep, promoting a better overall level of health.
Stress and sleep deprivation can often instill a fear of eating because of the possibility of vomiting up the food that is consumed.
A diet rich in fruits and milk can also provide a healthy and relatively fast paced option for gaining weight. While both are good for you, they also provide a heavy dose of sugar, calories, and proteins to the diet which can help to pack on additional pounds.
A mango milk diet has been shown to improve weight in undernourished individuals and is one of the more popular home remedies used today. Consumption of two mangoes followed by a glass of milk, repeated three times daily for at least one month has been successful for many. Three to four dried figs, soaked in water, eaten twice per day has shown promising results for a number of people suffering from being underweight as well.
In cases where being underweight is a result of serious illness like cancer and AIDS, a substance called megestrol acetate is administered to generate proteins that cause appetite and weight gain. It has been shown to generate an average weight gain of approximately 6.6 pounds during an eight week regimen.
Oxandrolone, an anabolic steroid which acts as an appetite stimulant and helps to generate muscle growth, is often used in elderly people suffering from being underweight.
Dronabinol is a derivative of cannabis and has been approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration to stimulate appetite in patients with AIDS and to curb nausea in patients being treated with radiation and chemotherapy. Its use in the elderly to stimulate weight gain is in its preliminary stages, but has shown promising results thus far.