The act of starving or crash-dieting to lose weight, which is believed to be common among women, especially young girls, is unhealthy and dangerous to health, nutrition experts warn.
They noted that starvation could impact women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, besides leading to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, which has dire health consequences.
They observed that extreme weight loss could affect the follicle-stimulating hormones as well as body tissues.
According to Mayo Clinic, Anorexia nervosa — often simply called anorexia — is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight.
Mayo Clinic says people with anorexia place a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with their lives.
A Clinical Nutritionist at the Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos, Susan Holbrooke, says when teenage girls starve themselves of healthy foods because they don’t want to add weight, they will have eating disorders like an Anorexia nervosa.
She said, “When you starve yourself, you are destroying tissues in your body and the body will continue to take the little that is available. Those starving themselves to look slim, skimpy, or trying to be a model are doing themselves more harm than good.
“For a woman that is depriving herself of little fat, there is a tendency to have very low estrogen and when the estrogen level is low, the woman will have problem with ovulation.
“A woman can also suffer from Amenorrhea – she will not be able to see her menses because of starvation. If you are not eating well, there will be a hormonal imbalance.”
The nutritionist said a girl can starve herself to the point of dying without knowing that she is starving the body tissue of food.
“Now, at the end of the day, she will be grossly malnourished. The lack of fatty cells will lead to disruption of menstrual flow and ovulation circle because it will affect the follicle-stimulating hormone as well as the utilizing stimulating hormone”, she added.
Giving insight into the short and long-term effects of anorexia, Holbrooke said there are immediate physical effects as the body struggles to function without the nutrients and fuel that it needs.
The sufferer, she noted, is also at risk of developing long-term and potentially life-threatening health problems, particularly if the condition is untreated for many years.
According to a 2020 study published in Science Daily, girls with anorexia nervosa can have stunted growth and may not reach their full height potential.
“Our findings emphasize the importance of early and intensive intervention aiming at normalization of body weight, which may result in improved growth and allow patients to reach their full height potential,” said the study’s corresponding author, Dalit Modan-Moses, of The Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, in Tel Hashomer, Israel.
Moses added, “We suggest that the height impairment is a marker for other complications of anorexia nervosa affecting the person’s overall health in several aspects: bone health, cognitive function, and problems with pregnancy and childbirth later in life. Early diagnosis and treatment could prevent, or at least reduce, the risk of these complications.”
The researchers studied 255 girls around 15 years old, who were hospitalized for anorexia nervosa.