Beliefnet
A Prescription for Healthy Living

“Does this dress make me look fat?” Chances are you have either asked or been asked this loaded question at one time in your life. Why? Because we live in a culture that focuses entirely too much attention on food and weight. Next time you are on the check-out line at the grocery store, check out the front page of any given tabloid magazine and you will likely see a collage of celebrities with one thing in common: All are suspected to have eating disorders. Karen Carpenter of the popular 1970s folk group, The Carpenters, is probably one of the most familiar faces when it comes to eating disorders and its associated dangers. We all worry about our weight from time to time. This is normal. But people with an eating disorder will not only worry, but will obsess, over every crumb they put into their mouths. There are several types of eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating. The problems associated with these disorders are many and can range in severity.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition that most often affects teenage girls, but also can occur in teenage boys, as well as in adult men and women. A person with anorexia nervosa is obsessed with being thin. People with this particular disorder will not eat because they are terrified they will gain weight. Most of the time people with anorexia are already thin, but an unhealthy view of their body image keeps them in bondage to counting their caloric and fat intake. A person with anorexia may take or abuse diet pills, laxatives or diuretics in order to lose weight. They may exercise too much. An anorexic may become so thin that he or she will look emaciated and sickly. Like rape isn’t an issue of sex, anorexia is not an issue with food per se; it is actually a person’s attempt to deal with emotional issues. Anorexia nervosa took the life of Karen Carpenter.

Bulimia

Bulimia is a condition in which a person will eat a lot of food during one sitting (bingeing) and then vomit or use a laxative to expel the food from their body (purging). Following a binge, some bulimics may fast or exercise to excess in an effort not to gain weight. A person with bulimia may also use diuretics, laxatives or diet pills to keep from gaining weight. People who have bulimia often try to hide their bingeing and purging. A bulimic may hoard and hide food for their binges. Although most bulimics are relatively close to their normal weight, their weight may fluctuate.

There are many warning signs associated with anorexia nervosa and bulimia. It is vital to get help if you or someone you know exhibits any of the following symptoms of these dangerous disorders:

• Unusual fixation with weight
• Unusual obsession with caloric and fat intake
• Misuse of laxatives, diet pills and diuretics

There are more serious warning signals that may be harder to discern because most people with these conditions try to hide their disorder. These signs include the following:

• Vomiting after a meal
• Syncope
• Heightened anxiety regarding weight
• Denial that anything is wrong

It is not known why some people have anorexia and others do not. Most people with anorexia may think that they will be happier, healthier and more successful if they are thin. Anorexics strive for perfection. People with this disorder tend to be good students who are active in their communities. People with eating disorders will beat themselves up if they do not make perfect grades, or if other things in their lives are not in perfect order.

It is difficult to treat anorexia because most people with the disease believe there is nothing with them. Most people respond successfully to treatment, but in order for that to take place, the person with the eating disorder must want to change.

People with more severe eating disorders must be hospitalized in order to receive the type of treatment they need. Treatment of an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia involves drastic changes in the person’s eating habits. Additionally, counseling is usually recommended to the patient in order to deal with whatever emotional issues they are failing to deal with properly. Medications may also be prescribed and may work effectively when coupled with counseling.

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