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Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa

Anorexia is a mental illness that affects girls more than boys (90% females) and usually occurs in the mid to late teens. It is a form of self-abuse in the manner of self starvation sometimes accompanied by extreme exercise routines. No matter how thin the person becomes, they refuse to see it as a health risk and even believe that, in certain cases when they are close to death, they are still in fact too fat. Anoretics or anorexics are so preoccupied with their external image that they ignore or block out hunger. They weigh themselves frequently and it can be seen as an 'anxiety disorder'.

Bulimia is another eating disorder which people think of as being related to anorexia, though really it is quite different. While anorexics are control freaks, people who suffer from bulimia are out of control. It involves binge-eating and then self-induced vomiting and/or abuse of laxatives. Although on its own it will not result in weight loss, it does cause gastrointestinal problems (problems in the intestine) and teeth may rot due to the acid in the regurgitated food.


Anorexics tend to have low-self esteem, insecurity and dissatisfaction with themselves and with life which they transfer into a concern with the way they look. It is a form of control: a lot of sufferers are perfectionists and strive to be the best in every way, this resulting in their placing unreasonable and dangerous expectations on themselves and their body. It can be caused by emotional or physical abuse in childhood or even the loss of a loved one. Doctors believe the fear of an unconventional or rather unaccepted sexuality can be one of the causes in a few cases.

The western cultural idea that thin = beauty is a cause of anorexia and bulimia. The idea of the stick-insect models in magazines and stick-thin actresses in the movies can place unnatural and impossible pressures on teenagers.

  • Depression - having no energy adds to this
  • Loss of libido - sexual drive is severely reduced during this illness as hormone production is reduced
  • Easily irritated - sufferers are much more volatile and can easily have mood swings and loss of temper
  • Insomnia - lack of sleep and therefore low energy levels are another indicator
  • Becoming introverted - sufferers tend to keep things to themselves and bottle all their emotions up inside.
  • Denial - a lot of sufferers refuse to admit there is a problem as they don't see the fact that they are losing weight to be a negative issue and even become proud of their self control with not eating

Women can stop menstruating due to the lack of food. Osteoporosis is a common result which involves brittle bones and maybe even stunted growth. Heart palpitations may develop along with low blood pressure.

Prevention and Treatment

Little is known about prevention - encouraging children and teaching them about varying body forms and differences in physical appearance is one way.

Psychotherapy is the primary method used in treating this serious illness. Patients talk to therapists and discuss feelings, emotions and the roots of the problem. Relatives may be included in this process to help the understanding and promote a better environment at the home. The more immediate problem is dealt with in hospital where doctors may resort to feeding the patient intravenously to gain weight and giving them hormones oestrogen and progesterone to combat any complications with menstruation. The patient will most likely be given a course of anti-depressants to help the recovery.

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