Anorexia nervosa is sometimes called the "starvation sickness." Obsessed with food, weight, and thinness, people suffering from anorexia deny their hunger and refuse to eat—even after extreme weight loss. As they consume too few calories for their basic needs, their bodies slowly waste away. By starving themselves, people with anorexia don't get the nutrients they need for normal bodily functions.
Bulimia nervosa is marked by binge eating and purging (self-induced vomiting). The person gorges, usually on high-calorie foods, and then intentionally vomits or uses laxatives or diuretics. The consequences are serious: dehydration, organ damage, internal bleeding from the stress of vomiting, tooth decay from acids in vomit, and in some cases, death. Many people with these eating disorders alternate between anorexia and bulimia. Reports indicate that 60 percent of people who have dieted extensively or starved themselves resort to bingeing, then purging to keep weight off.
Disordered eating is more than the "big three." Also getting attention: night eating syndrome (not just eating at night) and orthorexia nervosa, a popular name for compulsive attitudes and behavior about healthful eating. Compulsive exercising is a related concern.
When does an eating disorder start? Generally it begins with an ordinary weight-loss diet, begun just before or after a major life change or trauma. However, there's no clear understanding of the exact causes.
We do know, however, that eating disorders are more than food problems. The person's whole life— schoolwork or career, family life, overall health—gets wrapped up in the eating issues.
Who's at Risk for Anorexia and Bulimia?
People of almost any age and either gender may develop an eating disorder. However, some groups of people are more at risk than others.
Anorexia and Bulimia: The Warning Signs
Eating disorders produce warning signs. If you or someone you know shows any combination of these symptoms, be concerned! People with anorexia may:
• Eat tiny portions, refuse to eat, and deny they are hungry.
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