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Eating disorders unmasked

» About anorexia and bulimia

Spotting the problem

Those with eating disorders often go to great lengths to hide their problem. It’s important to detect the signs of anorexia and bulimia and urge a sufferer to get professional help.

Anorexia

  • depressed or anxious mood
  • an obsession with food, dieting and weight
  • deliberate self-starvation and weight loss
  • compulsive exercising
  • distorted body image
  • ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting up food into tiny pieces
  • loss of monthly period
  • loss or thinning of hair on head
  • avoidance of social eating situations, like parties
  • denial of a problem

Bulimia

  • depressed or anxious mood
  • avoidance of social eating situations
  • secretive eating
  • a tendency to hoard food
  • use of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics
  • compulsive exercising
  • disappearance after meals; visits to the bathroom to purge after eating
  • denial of a problem

Males suffer, too

About 10 percent of those who seek treatment for eating disorders are teenage boys and men. One study indicated that while the preferred body image for men without eating disorders is the V-shaped body (broad and muscular upper body, narrow waist), anorexic or bulimic men strive obsessively for a “lean, thin, toned” shape. In the study, males with eating disorders reported negative reactions from their peers while growing up.

When Cecilia looks in the mirror, she sees an overweight person staring back. It doesn’t matter that at 5’4", the teenager weighs 100 pounds. To Cecilia, her body will never be thin enough.

To become increasingly slim, the 17-year-old eats as little as possible and exercises obsessively. Denying her hunger makes her feel she has power over at least one aspect of her life.

Cecilia is suffering from an eating disorder, and she’s not alone: It’s estimated that anywhere from five to 10 million Americans—teen girls and women in their 20s, for the most part—are fighting for an image that can prove deadly. But early intervention brings hope, for the sooner an eating disorder is identified and treated, the greater the chance for recovery.

About anorexia and bulimia

Even after reaching an abnormally low weight, anorexics think they are “fat” and won’t eat enough to return to a normal weight. Those with bulimia nervosa go to great lengths to hoard sweets and other “bad” food for eating marathons, only to purge their meals through the use of laxatives or regurgitation. Because the binge-purge cycle allows them to maintain a normal weight, bulimics are often able to hide the disorder.

Among the consequences of anorexia are:

  • cardiac problems
  • impaired kidney function
  • lack of menstruation
  • constipation and abdominal bleeding
  • downy fuzz on face, limbs and body; loss of scalp hair
  • low blood pressure
  • dry skin, brittle hair
  • anemia

Bulimia leaves its mark through:

  • liver and kidney damage
  • internal bleeding and infection
  • disruption of the body’s fluid and mineral balance, which can cause an irregular heartbeat
  • broken blood vessels in the face
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • loss of tooth enamel
  • indigestion, bloating and constipation

Hospitalization is often required to stabilize weight and body functions. Once the patient is admitted, therapists use a combination of individual psychotherapy, group counseling, nutritional counseling and family therapy all aimed at restoring self-esteem, a healthy body image and normal eating habits. It’s vital to get treatment since the disorders often go hand in hand, pose major health dangers and can be fatal. Experts stress that a strong relationship with a therapist or a physician can aid recovery.


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