Body image is a huge topic worthy of discussion and debate, since many of us fall prey to the images we see around us regarding what is hot or not. This has led many of us down the garden path of short-lived (and often comical) bouts of hardcore dieting or exercise, and at the extreme end, cosmetic treatments or surgery to alter our appearance forever. Finding the happy, healthy middle ground of feeling good about how you look, but not getting too hung up on the things you can’t change, is the key to balance.
Eating disorders are now more common than ever, even in young children, boys and girls. This is a cultural travesty. Eating disorders are terrifying for sufferers and their families. Now, researchers in France have studied blood test results of a thyroid hormone, discovering that there can be a stark difference between hormone levels of those with anorexia nervosa, and those who are just naturally thin – what they call ‘constitutional thinness’. This means a definitive test to exclude those who do not actually have an eating disorder.
Historically, it has been somewhat difficult to establish if someone is simply skinny by nature, or skinny by choice, especially when you bring crafty denials into the picture. Now, doctors can look at thyroid hormone levels, and the two conditions can be differentiated with a very high rate of accuracy. This means the people who need help can get it, and the ones who do not can be left in peace. Free T3, a thyroid hormone, is measured in someone whose body mass index (BMI) is low.
The difference in diagnosis is that anorexia is that presence of an eating disorder, resistance to eating, and no periods (which occurs when body fat is too low to produce the right hormone concentrations). A person who is naturally thin, by contrast, has no eating disorder, doesn’t mind putting on weight, is not malnutritioned, and still gets periods.
A lack of periods has been recently removed from the diagnosis of anorexia, since the eating disorder can exist even before periods eventually stop due to low body fat. Oestradiol, a form of oestrogen, was also measured with good success in predicting anorexia, but can’t be used anymore due to periods being excluded from diagnosis.
Being naturally thin, but being diagnosed as having anorexia when in fact you do not, can be terrible due to social stigma, possible financial penalties, and aggressive treatments that can be applied unnecessarily. This new test means less false diagnoses, which is only a good thing. A healthy person who is naturally thin will have normal thyroid hormone levels.