An Introduction To Eating Disorders

By: Simone Butler


Eating disorders are among those modern conditions which aren't always taken seriously by the wider population, but which can have very serious effects for its victims. Indeed, far from being a minor problem which sufferers can solve simply by 'pulling themselves together', many of the eating disorders commonly seen are recognized psychological conditions which if left untreated can even turn out to be fatal. For this reason it's very important to spot any early signs of eating disorders in yourself, your family, or friends and colleagues, so that treatment can be started while the problem remains relatively easily coped with.

No one knows for sure how many people are affected by the main disorders, namely anorexia and bulimia, as the official figures inevitably under report the true extent of the problem. One of the features of these conditions, and anorexia in particular, is a lack of awareness in the sufferer that they actually have a problem, and so they naturally don't seek help. In the case of bulimia (binge eating compulsive eating), there is also often an element of guilt over what the sufferer acknowledges is inappropriate and uncontrolled behavior, again leading to an avoidance of treatment.

Bulimia is far more common than anorexia, with around 10% of women suffering from the former compared to 1% the latter. Among anorexics, around 10% of sufferers will eventually die as a result of the condition, and so should you spot any of the warning signs then medical advice should be urgently sought.

What is for sure is that eating disorders are more common than might be expected, and many consider the problem to be increasing in scope partly because of today's mass media promotion of attaining perfect body images.

Anorexia Nervosa, or plain anorexia as it's usually referred to as, is characterized by an unrealistic perception of ones own body. Sufferers will look into the mirror and see an overweight person looking back at them, however slim they may actually be. This constant desire to be thinner can lead to extreme dieting, excessive and obsessive exercise, and a preoccupation with food and avoiding it that can really take over a person's life. In extreme cases, the self starvation will continue unchecked until it proves fatal, even when the physical evidence that the sufferer is seriously underweight should be overwhelmingly obvious.

The effects of bulimia, on the other hand, may not be visible to outside observers. This disorder is characterized by bouts of hugely excessive eating, followed by purging activities to rid the body of the excess calories. Sufferers will lose control of their eating completely during these periods, gorging themselves way beyond any level of food intake necessary for health. Common methods of purging include self-induced vomiting and overuse of laxatives, and this is usually followed by a sense of self loathing and repulsion at the lack of control shown. The sufferer may also self-starve as both a form of atonement for their behavior and as a self imposed punishment.

While bulimia is not as physically harmful as anorexia, the psychological effects can be devastating, leading to depression and even more serious outcomes including suicide in the worst of cases. The physical signs of bulimia which can be observed tend to be related to the purging methods used, and include regularly bloodshot eyes, swollen glands, and dental erosion. In the long term, the dangers include digestive system problems such as ulcers, weakness and exhaustion, and even heart problems.

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Simone writes on a range of health and social issues, including eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating.

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