Eating Disorders How To Recognize Them

Over the last several decades the popular idea of a beautiful woman has gone from the voluptuous to the waif. Attempts to meet these unhealthy standards are in part responsible for the emergence of eating disorders. Eating disorders generally strike young women between the ages of 16 and 22, but may occur at almost any age.

ANOREXIA NERVOSA

This disorder is characterized by self-starvation driven by an obsession with being thin. The cause of this life-threatening disorder is unknown. A number of biological, familial, psychological and cultural factors are believed to be involved in this disorder. Our culture puts pressure on women to be thin. Ninety percent of anorexics are female. The image they have of themselves is severely distorted. While they appear to be thin, they see themselves as being overweight.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ANOREXIA NERVOSA

  • major weight loss from excessive and continuous dieting refusal to maintain a normal body weight
  • unrealistic fear of becoming fat
  • preoccupation with food, calories and food preparation
  • emaciation
  • menstruation is infrequent or absent
  • loss of normal head hair
  • feet and hands are cold and swollen
  • thinking may be confused or slow

BULIMIA

This disorder is characterized by binge eating that is usually followed by purging the body of excess food. The purging is done by self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diet pills, enemas and diuretics (drugs to reduce fluids). Although anorexia and bulimia are two different disorders, bulimia often leads to anorexia. Symptoms are usually very subtle, because bulimics are often able to keep their weight at normal levels. They are often preoccupied with food and can be compulsive exercisers.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BULIMIA

  • broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • swollen saliva glands
  • puffy areas below the corners of the mouth
  • teeth are prone to cavities and erosion
  • gums may be diseased
  • rashes and pimples may break out on skin
  • preoccupation with food
  • stockpiling of food
  • frequently excusing oneself after meals to purge
  • abuse of laxatives, diet pills, enemas or diuretics
  • compulsive exercise
  • frequent gastric disturbances such as excess gas after eating
  • thinking may be confused or slow

TREATMENT

Successful treatment of all eating disorders requires professional care. Regular visits to a doctor and counselor are necessary./ Because eating disorders stem from a number of factors, family counseling is also strongly recommended.

HOW TO GET HELP

If you or a loved one has an eating disorder it’s crucial that help be sought. To get a referral to a doctor, therapist or support group in your area, or to obtain further information about eating disorders, contact the American Anorexia/Bulimia Association at (212) 501-8351 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST).

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