Understanding Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa and its “sister” disorder, bulimia, have recently received long overdue media coverage, focusing our attention on the seriousness of these diseases. Awareness of the problem is the first step; getting help is the second.

A Profile of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is a disease characterized by an obsession with thinness that results in voluntary self-starvation. Anorexia usually affects adolescent females, although males can also suffer from this disease. Typically, an anorectic is overly concerned with pleasing others — a perfectionist, an obedient, apparently non-rebellious teenager. Unfortunately, this behavior often masks underlying feelings of low self-esteem and powerlessness. By controlling her own body — refusing to eat and often exercising to the point of punishment— the anorectic gains a misguided sense of power. Warning signs of anorexia include: Loss of 25% or more of one’s body weight; distorted self-image (believing one is fat when at or below ideal weight); obsessed with food while refusing to eat.

A Profile of Bulimia

Bulimia is also called the “Binge-Purge Syndrome” because sufferers alternately binge on large quantities of food then purge themselves by self-induced vomiting, diuretics, laxatives, or all three. Bulimia usually affects young women in their 20s and 30s, but men also suffer from this disorder. Like anorectics, bulimics tend to suffer from extremely low self-esteem, which is aggravated by their inability to control their obsession with food. (There are many anorectics who also suffer from episodic bulimia.) Warning signs of bulimia include: Swollen salivary glands, increased dental problems from chronic vomiting; excusing oneself after meals to purge; gastric disturbances such as excessive ‘gas” after eating; stockpiling food for binges; obsession with food.

Medical Consequences

Prolonged eating disorders — starving,, fasting, purging — can lead to serious medical complications. Anorexia and bulimia can cause gastric, kidney, and metabolic damage. They can also lead to severe dehydration, malnourishment, muscle spasms, and chemical imbalances that can trigger cardiac arrest. Left untreated, these disorders may ultimately lead to death.

Where to Get Help

If you or someone you care for suffers from an eating disorder, the following organizations can help you:

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. Box 271 Highland Park, IL 60035 (312)831-3438
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc. 133 Cedar Lane Teaneck, NJ 07666 (201)836-1800 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. Box 271 Highland Park, IL 60035 (312)831-3438
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc. 133 Cedar Lane Teaneck, NJ 07666 (201)836-1800 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. Box 271 Highland Park, IL 60035 (312)831-3438
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc. 133 Cedar Lane Teaneck, NJ 07666 (201)836-1800 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. Box 271 Highland Park, IL 60035 (312)831-3438
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc. 133 Cedar Lane Teaneck, NJ 07666 (201)836-1800 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. Box 271 Highland Park, IL 60035 (312)831-3438

If you or someone you care for suffers from an eating disorder, seek professional help. Left untreated, anorexia and bulimia can lead to death.

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