Eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia

Not many people are completely happy with their bodies or what they eat. But some people’s relationship with food is extremely intense. It can dominate their lives.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia (anorexia nervosa) and bulimia (bulimia nervosa). In both these conditions people control their food and eating as a way of try to cope with their feelings and anxieties. It’s important to remember that people with eating disorders sometimes have a normal bodyweight and the condition can go unnoticed for a long time.
People with anorexia don’t eat enough. They think their problems are caused by how they look. They believe they are fat even though other people can see that they’re not. Sometimes they exercise way too much, or use vomiting and laxatives to control their weight. Their mood can get very low, and in women their periods can be affected. As well as general lack of nourishment which can make you very tired, anorexia can cause specific health problems like poor circulation, brittle bones, hair loss and even kidney disease and infertility.

Bulimia is actually more common than anorexia. In bulimia people often have an obsession with weight and shape, and they tend to “binge” on large amounts of sugary or fatty foods which they wouldn’t normally let themselves eat. Binges are often followed by panic which means that people then go on to starve themselves, make themselves sick, take laxatives or over-exercise. Physical problems can include tooth decay, constipation and damage to the intestines.

Some people with anorexia or bulimia make elaborate meals for other people but try not to eat in company. They can also become obsessive about the content of foods, counting calories and monitoring all the ingredients. Sometimes, they rush to the loo after a meal.

Anorexia and bulimia are serious conditions. But with the right help and support – often from family and friends as well as professionals – people can address the problems behind their eating, and get back to a more balanced relationship with their bodies and with food.

Up to one in every hundred women aged 15-30 experience anorexia, while bulimia affects around two women in every hundred. Up to 15 women in every hundred go through some kind of “binge eating”. A much smaller – but growing – number of men and boys also experience eating disorders.

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