Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Learn to spot the symptoms of eating disorders and find out the treatment options available to sufferers.

Eating disorders are serious psychological conditions that can have life-threatening physical consequences in men and women of any age.

They are commonly accompanied by extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviours with regards to body weight and food. All eating disorders require professional help. Treatment for eating disorders involves psychotherapy, nutrition education, counselling, medication, and hospitalisation in severe cases.

Three common types of eating disorders include:
• Anorexia Nervosa: characterised by self-starvation and excessive weight loss
• Bulimia Nervosa: characterised by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Sufferers consume excessive amounts of food and then get rid of the food and calories through vomiting, laxative abuse, or over-exercising
• Binge Eating Disorder (Compulsive Overeating): characterised primarily by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full

Causes of Eating Disorders

Exact causes of eating disorders are unknown. Researchers believe that it could be due to a complex interaction of biological, psychological, family, genetic, environmental, and social factors.

Possible causes of eating disorders include:
• Family history of siblings or parents with eating disorders, which suggest a possible genetic link
• Psychological issues such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior, family conflicts, and troubled relationships
• Socio-cultural issues, such as peer pressure and the intense focus on one’s appearance and body shape in the media

Risk Factors

Factors to look out for, which may increase the risk of developing eating disorders include:
• Peer pressure, conventionally stronger in teenage girls and young women
• Parents and family members overly critical of body weight and outward appearance
• Other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
• Stressful life transitions such as moving, broken relationships, or pregnancy
• Professions that focus strongly on outward appearance or weight regulations, such as acting, modelling, dancing and wrestling

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Eating disorder symptoms may vary with the specific type of eating disorder.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa Include:

• Intense fear of weight gain or looking fat
• Feeling fat or overweight despite dramatic weight loss
• Loss of menstrual period
• Extreme concern with body weight and shape
• Brittle nails
• Hair that thins, breaks, or falls out
• Constipation
• Dry skin

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa Include:

• Repeated episodes of binge eating and purging
• Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness
• Purging after binge eating, typically by self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills, and/or diuretics
• Frequent extreme dieting
• Extreme concern with body weight and shape
• Damaged teeth and gums
• Swollen salivary glands in the cheeks
• Sores in the throat and mouth

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms Include:

• Periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full
• No purging following overeating
• Feeling depressed, disgusted or upset over the amount eaten
• Depression or anxiety
• Eating significantly more food during a binge episode than during a normal meal or snack
• Feeling that eating behaviour is out of control


Eating disorder treatments typically include:
• Psychotherapy
• Counselling
• Nutrition advice
• Educating youths and adolescents
• Medication

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to getting professional help, sufferers of eating disorders can also use these coping methods.
• Boost self-esteem — get involved in interesting activities like learning a new skill, developing a hobby, and participating in social or recreational groups
• Be aware and not overtly influenced by media conventions
• Resist the urge to diet or skip meals as a weight management technique
• Get familiar with and maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI)
• Follow healthy role models
Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

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