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Dangerous Eating Disorders

Por Claudia M. González, MS, RD, LD/N* -

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a normal slimming diet and an eating disorder. People lose weight in both cases, but the methods used to lose weight are very different. Many teenagers and young people go on diets, but some suffer from serious eating disorders.

Eating disorders are very harmful, and it’s important to learn to recognize the signs of danger. Read the following for a brief description and the warning signs for the two most common eating disorders: anorexia and bulimia.

Anorexia Nervosa

The psychological or behavioral disorder anorexia nervosa prevents sufferers from eating properly. Regardless of how thin or sick they become, anorexics see themselves as fat and they continually starve themselves to lose weight. This disorder occurs most often among teenage girls, but it affects men as well.

Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa have an abnormal perception of their body and have a negative self-image. Convinced that they are obese, anorexics continue their starvation diets, even to the point of emaciation.

Although many theories explain this highly complex disorder, the real causes are debatable. Some experts believe this obsessive behavior in teenagers, stems from their refusal to become sexually mature adults. They believe that strict diets are the only way to control their lives in the face of an uncertain and frightening future. Other specialists believe that the disorder has physiological origins resulting from a malfunctioning hypothalamus (the region of the brain that controls hunger, thirst, and sexual activity). It could also stem from a psychological problem caused by depression or an exaggerated fear of getting fat.

Unless the anorexic person undergoes strict medical supervision, such as from a specialized clinic, he or she will continue to refuse to eat, and hide or throw away food. Treatment varies. It always includes a very carefully-controlled eating program combined with individual or family psychotherapy sessions that aim to resolve any personal conflicts.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is a constant anxious desire to eat combined with an extreme fear of putting on weight. Bulimics wolf down as much food as they can and then induce vomiting or take diuretics and laxatives. Bulimia nervosa is common among young women who are recovering anorexics. Although most bulimics have pretty normal body weights, the constant switching between bingeing and vomiting can cause a number of disorders such as dehydration, muscle cramps, weakness, and mental problems.

The treatment for bulimia resembles that used for anorexia. Doctors supervise the bulimic’s eating habits and, when necessary, the patient has to attend psychotherapy sessions or take anti-depressants.

Warning signs

In addition to those already mentioned, watch out for warning signs that could indicate the presence of one of these eating disorders.
These warning signs include:

  • Excessive tiredness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Fine down on the cheeks, neck, forearms, and legs
  • Amenorrhea (lack of menstruation in women)

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Excessive concern with food
  • Excessive physical activity (obsession with exercise)
  • Reserved and defensive behavior

If you or anyone you know has the signs or is suffering one of these eating disorders, consult a health care professional immediately.



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