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Anorexia and Bulimia: How to Spot the Signs

90 percent of those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia are adolescent girls and young women.

Two of the worlds most serious eating disorders are bulimia, which involves consuming large amounts of food and then purging them by either laxative abuse or self-induced vomiting; and anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by distorted body image and self-starvation. Although anorexia and bulimia are two separate disorders, many of those who are affected exhibit features of both.

More than 90 percent of those who suffer from these disorders are young women and adolescent girls. Anorexia usually begins when the their young bodies begin to change during early adolescence and the more their bodies change, the more convinced they become that they are getting fat.

Warning Signs of Anorexia

  • A person with anorexia nervosa chronically under-eats. They become thinner and thinner and can literally starve themselves to death while still believing that they are overweight.
  • Carry out strange rituals with what little food they do eat. For example, some will cut food into tiny shapes and pieces and spend long periods of time precisely arranging them on the plate before eating.
  • Have strange obsessions with anything food related. May collect cook books / recipes or spend free time cooking for others but never eating themselves.
  • Refuse to eat around other people.

Warning Signs of Bulimia

  • Bulimics seem to have no control over their eating and tend to alternate fasting and bingeing.
  • Often go to the washroom right after their meal and induce vomiting.
  • Abuse diuretics and laxatives and often take amphetamines to curb their appetites.
  • Both bulimics and anorexics tend to be obsessive about exercise and are very secretive about their eating habits. Most deny that they have a problem at all. Many have low self esteem and resort to drug or alcohol abuse as a means of escape.

Causes

Some researchers suggest that eating disorders could be caused by chemical and hormonal imbalances in the brain, while other experts firmly believe that problematic family relationships are to blame. Anorectics are often overachievers and often described by their parents as being "obedient".  Some psychiatrists theorize that their erratic eating patterns represent the only aspect of their lives that they feel they are able to control.

Bulimia and anorexia are both potentially fatal. There is a high suicide rate for bulimics, while anorectics can quite literally starve themselves to death. Changes to their bodies caused by poor nutrition and erratic eating habits also puts them at a much higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

Diagnosis

Even if there are signs of an eating disorder, the first step is always a complete physical examination. This will rule out other illnesses that can cause drastic weight loss such as chronic infection or some cancers. During the examination the doctor will carefully look for any signs of bulimia or anorexia. In anorectics, thinning / brittle hair and dry skin are common. Low blood pressure and a slow heart rate indicate that the body might be responding to starvation.

In diagnosing bulimics, much depends on a physical exam and medical history. The doctor will examine the patient`s mouth to check for swelling of the esophagus due to repeated vomiting and check the teeth for signs of deterioration from prolonged exposure to stomach acids found in vomit.

Treatment

Treatment for eating disorders requires both medical and psychological care.

  • Anorectics are often admitted to a hospital and treated for malnutrition and other complications of starvation. Their bodies are re-introduced to calories through feeding tubes or intravenous feeding while they restore weight a little at a time with plenty of bed rest. While they are hospitalized, anorectic patients attend behavioral therapy to help change compulsive eating habits and their obsessions about staying thin.
  • Bulimics are rarely hospitalized unless they suffer from deep depression. Bulimics often feel shame and guilt about their disorder, so group therapy with other bulimics along with behavioral and dietary therapy works quite well for many bulimics.
  • People with eating disorders often deny they have a problem and devise elaborate schemes and strategies to convince others that their eating habits are normal. For this reason, self-treatment is not advisable.

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