Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia: An Overview

Eating Disorders are affecting an increasing number of adolescent girls. The two most common are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

Anorexia is the refusal to eat and can lead to extreme weight loss, hormonal problems, and death. Bulimia involves cycles of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting. It occurs most often with pre-teen and teenage girls, but has been known to develop in both men and women from adolescence through adulthood. The extreme attitudes and behaviors that these girls have towards food and weight lead to inaccurate perceptions and life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Anorexia usually starts with normal dieting to lose weight, switching to less and less eating each day. The less she eats, the more emotionally fulfilled she may feel, leading to eating even less. There may be the occasional binge where she eats enormous quantities of food and then purges her indiscretion by vomiting. She may regularly use laxatives to help pass the food she does consume. If she follows the binge-purge pattern more consistently than starvation, she is considered bulimic.

When weight drops to about 26 pounds below normal, an anorexic will most likely stop having periods as her body attempts to avoid the stress of a pregnancy. Also, her body will grow more hair to help conserve the heat that would otherwise escape without sufficient body fat. Her skin may begin to look sallow, waxy, and thin.

Someone with an eating disorder learns quickly how to hide her behaviors. She may throw food away claiming to have eaten it. She may be abnormally energetic. She will continue to complain about being fat and having problem areas despite her emaciated appearance.

Risks of Anorexia and Bulimia

Many teenagers will go through a phase of excessive dieting, but only a minority develop anorexia or bulimia. Up to 15% die as a result of starvation, infections from poor nutrition, dehydration from laxatives and vomiting, or from suicide.

Bulimics often have severe damage to their teeth due to the exposure to stomach acid from repeated vomiting. Their entire digestive systems become imbalanced by the binge-and-purge cycles, affecting the heart and other major organs. People with eating disorders have a high risk for heart failure. They also reduce their bone density (osteoporosis), have muscle loss, dry hair and skin, and have hair loss.

Treatment of Eating Disorders

As with many disorders, treatment of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa is much more effective the earlier it is caught. Depending on the severity and progression of the disorder, psychiatric evaluation and/or hospitalization may be necessary. A team of experienced physicians, nurses, and dietitians is the best bet for managing this illness. Detailed programs including well-planned diets, psychotherapy and other tactics are initiated within the treatment center where full attention can be placed on getting emotional and physical healing. However, even after a patient is considered recovered, it will continue to be a struggle in her life. A strong support network of friends and family is imperative to her continued health and her resistance to slipping back into old habits.

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