Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two most serious eating disorders.
Each illness involves a preoccupation with control over body weight, eating and food.
- People with anorexia are determined to control the amounts of food they eat
- People with bulimia tend to feel out of control where food is concerned
Anorexia affects two out of every 100 teenage girls, although the illness can be experienced earlier and later in life. Most people who have anorexia are female, but males also develop the disorder.
Bulimia may affect up to three in every hundred teenage girls. More females than males develop bulimia.
Both illnesses can be overcome and it is important for the person to seek advice about either condition as early as possible.
Signs of Anorexia & Bulimia:
Anorexia is characterised by:
- a loss of at least 15 per cent of body weight resulting from refusal to eat enough food, despite extreme hunger
- a disturbance of perceptions of body image in that the person may regard themselves as fat, overestimating body size the thinner they become;an intense fear of becoming ‘fat’ and of losing control;
- a tendency to exercise obsessively
- a preoccupation with the preparation of food
- making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food
Usually, anorexia begins with a weight loss, either resulting from a physical illness or from dieting.
Favourable comments cause the person to believe that if thin is good, thinner is better.
The body does not react well to starvation, and erratic eating behaviour begins to dominate the person’s life.
About 40 per cent of people with anorexia will later develop bulimia.
Bulimia is characterised by:
- eating binges which involve consumption of large amounts of calorie-rich food, during which
- the person feels a loss of personal control and self disgust;
- attempts to compensate for binges and to avoid weight gain by self-induced vomiting, and/orabuse of laxatives and fluid tablets
- a combination of restricted eating and compulsive exercise so that control of weight dominates the person’s life
- A person with bulimia is usually average or slightly above average weight for height, so is often less
- recognisable than the person with anorexia
Bulimia often starts with rigid weight reduction dieting in the ‘pursuit of thinness’. Inadequate nutrition causes tiredness and powerful urges to binge eat.Vomiting after a binge seems to bring a sense of relief, but this is temporary and soon turns to depression and guilt.
Some people use laxatives,apparently unaware that laxatives do not reduce kilojoules or fat content, and serve only to eliminate vital trace elements and to dehydrate the body.
A person with bulimia may experience chemical imbalances in the body which bring about lethargy, depression and clouded thinking.
The causes of anorexia and bulimia remain unclear. Biological, psychological and social factors are all involved. For some people, some of the following may compound low self-esteem and contribute to the onset of anorexia or bulimia:
- Social influences including media and other presentations of the ideal shape in western societies as slim and fit, have a tendency to stereotype fat people in a negative manner.
- Personal factor such as;
- changes in life circumstances such as the onset of adolescence, breakdown of relationships, childbirth or the death of a loved one
- fear of the responsibilities of adulthood
- poor communication between family members or parental reluctance to allow independence as children mature
- a belief that love from family and friends depends on high achievement
- Biological factors include chemical or hormonal imbalances (perhaps associated with adolescence).
The physical effects can be serious, but are generally reversible if the illnesses are tackled early. If left untreated, severe anorexia and bulimia can be life-threatening.