What are Anorexia and Bulimia?

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder identified by an “obsession” for thinness, generally sought through self-starvation. Characteristic features include drastic weight loss resulting from dieting and / or intense exercise,
poor body image, a drive for thinness and an accompanying fear of weight gain.

Bulimia Nervosa is a syndrome of chaotic eating behaviour identified by cycles of binge eating during which there is a feeling of lack of control, followed by purging in order to prevent weight gain. Purging methods include: self-induced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, and abuse of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills. Individuals with bulimia may display frequent changes in weight, initially losing weight but then gaining it back again, due to the ineffectiveness of purging. The cycle of dieting, bingeing and purging also reinforces one’s feelings of guilt, failure, being out of control, and of low self-esteem.

A teenager with anorexia nervosa is typically a perfectionist and a high achiever in school. At the same time, she suffers from low self-esteem, irrationally believing she is fat regardless of how thin she becomes. Desperately needing a feeling of mastery over her life, the teenager with anorexia nervosa experiences a sense of control only when she says “no” to the normal food demands of her body. In a relentless pursuit to be thin, the girl starves herself. This often reaches the point of serious damage to the body, and in a small number of cases may lead to death.

The symptoms of bulimia are different from those of anorexia nervosa. The patient binges on huge quantities of high-caloric food and then purges her body of dreaded calories by self-induced vomiting and often using laxatives. These binges may alternate with severe diets, resulting in dramatic weight fluctuations. Teenagers may try to hide the signs of throwing up by running water while spending long periods of time in the bathroom. The purging of bulimia presents a serious threat to the patient’s physical health, including dehydration, hormonal imbalance, the depletion of important minerals, and damage to the vital organs.

With proper treatment, teenagers can be relieved of the symptoms of helped to control these disorders. Parents who notice symptoms of anorexia or bulimia in their teenagers should ask their family physician or paediatrician for a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatristwho works comprehensively in the treatment of these disorders.

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