An extreme loss of weight and an aversion to eating? Is it anorexia nervosa or celiac disease?
So what is anorexia nervosa?
Basically a fear of getting fat, so severe that the sufferer refuses to eat in case she puts on weight. The main purpose of her life is to be thin. Notice I said "her"; over 90% of anorexia sufferers are young women aged between 17 and 40.
An undiagnosed celiac on the other hand, may WORRY about the fact that she is so thin! The reasons behind her weight loss can be varied but it would be unusual for her to be suffering from both celiac and anorexia.
Due to the fact that her body isn't absorbing the nutrients it needs, weight loss can be dramatic. If she continues to eat normal quantities of foods containing gluten this downward trend will continue. Her thin, bony, appearance may lead others to suspect anorexia but her appetite may suggest otherwise.
A more difficult situation to unravel may be when a young woman misses meals or refuses to eat because food makes her feel ill. Try replacing the word "fat" with "ill" in the following sentence and you could be looking at a celiac sufferer rather than an anorexic. "I'm terrified to eat because it will make me fat".
Without knowing what is making her ill, she may assume that ALL food is to blame. If after every meal she has to rush to the toilet to expel what she has eaten it can be easier not to eat in the first place. Add the malabsorption to this mix and she is likely to loose weight alarmingly, a symptom of both celiac and anorexia.
When first diagnosed with celiac disease the patient may still make mistakes with her gluten free diet. It can take time to learn which foods contain gluten and small amounts can slip through, enough to still cause her to feel sick. In fact even after many years on the diet I still have the occasional slip-up.
Once following the gluten free diet it can take some time for the body to recover. Maybe up to six months or even a year can go by before the villi in the intestine grow back and allow the sufferer to absorb the nutrients in her food as they should.
Once a patient finds out she has celiac, and her body has recovered, she may still not eat when she should.
Personally I find myself missing meals for a number of reasons, but weight issues do not normally enter the equation.
Being highly sensitive, the smallest amount of hidden gluten that finds its way into my diet can cause me pain and diarrhea. The stress of worrying that I may have an accident can prevent me from eating breakfast before leaving the house.
In a similar vein, it can be easier to wait until I get home before stopping for a meal. This sometimes results in my evening meal being the only food I eat in a day. Not a healthy way to live!
Although the gluten free diet is by its very nature restricted, it is important to eat a variety of allowed foods. It can be difficult to get the enthusiasm for food when what you are served doesn't look appetizing or is the same as you ate the day before.
It can also be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that food on a gluten free diet takes too long to prepare. If you have to make the bread before you can go and snack on a sandwich it can seem like too much effort.
Fatigue, another symptom I suffer from, can also play a part in the not eating cycle. If you are too tired to cook it is easier to go without. But if you miss a meal the fatigue can get worse, starting a vicious circle.
Missed meals and not eating regularly can be a symptom in both celiac and anorexia but for very different reasons. I hope this article has helped you to understand the difference.
It is important to visit your medical care provider to discover the cause behind any severe weight loss issues.