Eating Disorders: Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Compulsive Overeating

Eating Disorders: Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Compulsive Overeating

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Eating Disorders: Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Compulsive Overeating


Bulimia is an illness characterized by uncontrolled episodes of overeating usually followed by self-induced vomiting or other purging. Alternative names for Bulimia are Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Purge Behavior, and also Eating Disorders. In bulimia, eating binges may occur as often as several times a day. Induced vomiting known as purging allows the eating to continue without the weight gain; it may continue until interrupted by sleep, abdominal pain, or the presence of another person. The person is usually aware that their eating pattern is abnormal and may experience fear or guilt associated with the binge-purge episodes. The behavior is usually secretive, although clues to this disorder include over activity, peculiar eating habits, eating rituals, and frequent weighing. Body weight is usually normal or low, although the people may perceive themselves as overweight.

The exact cause of bulimia is unknown, but factors thought to contribute to its development are family problems, maladaptive behavior, self-identity conflict, and cultural overemphasis on physical appearance. Bulimia may be associated with depression.
The disorder is usually not associated with any underlying physical problem although the behavior may be associated with neurological or endocrine diseases. The disorder occurs most often in females of adolescent or young adult age. The incidence is estimated to be 3% in the general population; but 20% of college women suffers from it. A cultural and family de-emphasis on physical appearance may eventually reduce the incidence of this disorder. There are several symptoms associated with bulimia such as: binge eating followed by purging, self induced vomiting, inappropriate use of diuretics and laxatives, menstruation is absent or deceased, and overachieving behavior.

Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging to try and rid the body of unwanted calories. A binge is different for all individuals. For one person a binge may range from 1000 to 10000 calories, for another, one cookie may be considered a binge. Purging methods usually involve vomiting and laxative abuse. Other forms of purging can involve excessive exercise, fasting, use of diuretics, diet pills and enemas.

Bulimics are usually people that do not feel secure about their own self worth. They usually strive for the approval of others. They tend to do whatever they can to please others, while hiding their own feelings. Food becomes their only source of comfort.
Bulimia also serves as a function for blocking or letting out feelings.

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Unlike anorexics, bulimics do realize they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder associated with a distorted body image that may be caused by a mental disorder. Inadequate calorie intake results in severe weight loss. There are a couple of alternative names associated with anorexia such as anorexia nervosa and eating disorder. The exact cause of this disorder is not known, but social attitudes towards body appearance and family factors play a role in its development. The condition affects females more frequently, usually in adolescence or young adulthood. Gorging followed by vomiting (spontaneous or self-induced) and inappropriate use of laxatives or diuretics are behaviors that may accompany this disorder. Risk factors are being Caucasian, having an upper or middle economic background, being female, and having a goal-oriented family or personality. The incidence is 4 out of 100,000 people. In some cases, prevention may not be possible. Encouraging healthy, realistic attitudes toward weight and diet may be helpful. Sometimes, counseling can help. There are several symptoms associated with anorexia, such as: weight loss of 25% or greater, cold intolerance, constipation, menstruation is absent, skeletal muscle atrophy, loss of fatty tissue, low blood pressure, dental cavities, increased susceptibility to infection, blotchy or yellow skin, dry hair, hair loss, and also depression.

Anorexia is characterized by a significant weight loss resulting from excessive dieting. Most women and an increasing number of men are motivated by the strong desire to be thin and a fear of becoming obese. Anorexics consider themselves to be fat, no matter what their actual weight is. Often anorexics do not recognize they are underweight and may still "feel fat" at 80 lbs. Anorexics close to death will show you on their bodies where they feel they need to lose weight. In their attempts to become even thinner, the anorexic will avoid food and taking in calories at all costs, which can result in death. An estimated 10 to 20% will eventually die from complications related to it. Anorexics usually strive for perfection. They set very high standards for themselves and feel they always have to prove their competence. They usually always put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. A person with anorexia may also feel the only control they have in their lives is in the area of food and weight. If they can't control what is happening around them, they can control their weight. Each morning the number on the scale will determine whether or not they have succeeded or failed in their goal for thinness. They feel powerful and in control when they can make themselves lose weight. Sometimes focusing on calories and losing weight is their way of blocking out feelings and emotions. For them, it's easier to diet then it is to deal with their problems directly.

Anorexics usually have low self-esteem and sometimes feel they don't deserve to eat. The anorexics usually deny that anything is wrong. Hunger is strongly denied. They usually resist any attempts to help them because the idea of therapy is seen only as a way to force them to eat. Once they admit they have a problem and are willing to seek help, they can be treated effectively through a combination of psychological, nutritional and medical care.

Uncontrollable eating and consequent weight gain characterize compulsive overeating. Compulsive overeaters use food as a way to cope with stress, emotional conflicts and daily problems. The food can block out feelings and emotions. Compulsive overeaters usually feel out of control and are aware their eating patterns are abnormal. Like bulimics, compulsive overeaters do recognize they have a problem. Compulsive overeating usually starts in early childhood when eating patterns are formed. Most people who become compulsive eaters are people who never learned the proper way to deal with stressful situations and used food instead as a way of coping.

Fat can also serve as a protective function for them, especially in people that have been victims of sexual abuse. They sometimes feel that being overweight will keep others at a distance and make them less attractive. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, there are a high proportion of male overeaters. The more weight that is gained, the harder they try to diet and dieting is usually what leads to the next binge, which can be followed by feelings of powerlessness, guilt, shame and failure. Dieting and bingeing can go on forever if the emotional reasons for the bingeing are not dealt with.In today's society, compulsive overeating is not yet taken seriously enough. Instead of being treated for the serious problem they have, they are instead directed to diet centers and health spas. Like anorexia and bulimia, compulsive overeating is a serious problem and can result in death. With the proper treatment, which should include therapy, medical and nutritional counseling, it can be overcome.

There are several symptoms associated with compulsive eating such as: binge eating, fear of not being able to stop eating voluntarily, depression, self deprecating thoughts following binges, withdrawing from activities because of embarrassment about weight, going on many different diets, eating little in public while maintaining a high weight, believing they will be a better person when thin, feelings about self based on weight, social and professional failures attributed to weight, feeling tormented by eating habits, and also weight is the focus of life.

Many physical and medical complications can be associated with this disorder such as: weight gain, fatigue, heart ailments, diabetes, arthritis, embolism, sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, and cardiac arrest and death. In today's society we are now seeing more children under the age of twelve developing eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa and compulsive eating is the most common among such young children, but there are cases of bulimia being reported. It is estimated that 40% of nine year olds have already dieted and we are beginning to see four and five year olds expressing the need to diet. It's a shame that children so young are being robbed of their childhoods.

Why is it that so many young children are becoming obsessed with dieting and their weight? I feel the family environment has a lot to do with it, along with the fact that children are constantly being exposed to the message society gives about the importance of being thin. Children raised in a dysfunctional family are at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder. In a home where physical or sexual abuse is taking place, the child may turn to an eating disorder to gain a sense of control. If they can't control what is happening to their bodies during the abuse, they can control their food intake or their weight. Self-imposed starvation may also be their way of trying to disappear so they no longer have to suffer through the abuse.

Eating disorders continue to be on the increase in today's society and not just among teenage girls. Many people believe that eating disorders affect only teenage girls, but that could not be further from the truth. Women are under just as much pressure to be thin as teenagers are. We are seeing more and more women developing eating disorders in their twenties, thirties, forties, and beyond. The onset on anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating can occur at any time in a person's life.

Even though the reasons for the development of an eating disorder may vary, the feelings about oneself are usually the same. The women suffer with feelings of self-hate, worthlessness, low self-esteem, and they usually feel that in order to be happy, they must be thin. Some may feel their lives are out of control and they turn to the one area of their lives that they can control, their weight. Others may believe that once they attain the "ideal" body image, then their lives will become perfect.

Stimulant laxatives such as Ex-Lax and Correctol are the most common laxatives used by someone with an eating disorder. Laxatives have little or no effect on reducing weight because by the time they work, the calories have already been absorbed. The person usually feels like they have lost weight because of the amount of fluid that is lost. That feeling is only temporary because the body will start to retain water within a 48 to 72 hour period. This usually leaves the person feeling bloated and fearing they are gaining weight. This is usually what leads to repeated use of these products.

Laxative abuse can cause bloody diarrhea, electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. Many people find that after prolonged use they cannot move their bowels without them. The person may also experience constipation, severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Laxative abuse is very dangerous, can lead to permanent damage to the bowels, severe medical complications and even death. Laxatives are not always used for the sole purpose of trying to rid the body of calories that have been consumed. Just like vomiting is used as a way for someone to release built up feelings and emotions, laxatives can also be used for the same reason. A person may also abuse laxatives as a way to harm himself or herself. The physical pain resulting from laxative abuse may be a reason that a person continues to use them. They may believe they deserve the pain or they may find that dealing with physical pain is easier then dealing with emotional pain.

The sale of diet pills continues to be on the rise in North America. Many people are lead to believe that they are a safe and effective way to lose weight. Most diet pills on the market are not safe, can cause serious side effects and have resulted in death. Popular diet pills such as Acutrim and Dexatrim contain a combination of phenylpropanolamine and caffeine. Phenylpropanolamine is a stimulant and affects the central nervous system. It can produce symptoms such as increased heart rate, dizziness, high blood pressure, nausea, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, dry mouth and diarrhea.

Fenfluramine (Fen-Phen) is also found in many diet pills and it is quite popular. Like all diet pills, it stimulates the central nervous system and can be addictive. Its side effects can include diarrhea, high blood pressure, dry mouth, rash, palpitations and chest pains. Most doctors that prescribe Fen-Phen ignore the manufacturers warnings about who should use these pills and how long they should be taken. People using them are usually not informed of the warnings either. The manufacturer of Fen-Phen states that it should only be used in treating obesity and when the persons weight is at a point where it is a serious threat to their health. Many doctors claim that Fen-Phen is safe and can be taken for life. The manufacturer says these pills should not be taken for more than 3 months. Taking them for any longer can put you at risk for developing Primary Pulmonary Hypertension, a rare but generally fatal lung disease.

The life expectancy for someone that develops Primary Pulmonary Hypertension is less than 3 years. Ephedrine is found in many diet pills and food supplements and is probably the most dangerous. It has been linked to many deaths from heart attacks, seizures and strokes. Its side effects can include irregular and rapid heart rates, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, chest pains, breathing problems, headaches, anxiety and cardiac arrest.Diet pills are not an effective or healthy way to lose weight. They are very dangerous and can lead to serious medical problems and death.
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