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Women and Eating Disorders

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a person who binges, or consumes a very large amount of food all at once, and then purges. Purging means forcing yourself to vomit, or taking laxatives or diuretics (water pills). Bulimics may also fast or use excessive exercise as a means of ridding the body of what they ate during a binge. Their binge eating is usually very secretive and uncontrolled. As with anorexia nervosa, those with bulimia are overly concerned with food, body weight, and shape.

Binge sessions can occur one or twice a week up to several times per day, and can be triggered by a wide range of emotions. With bulimia, the disorder can be constant or have periods of remission.

Medical complications that are attributed to bulimia nervosa usually result from an imbalance of electrolytes from repeated vomiting. There is usually a loss of potassium, which can damage the heart muscle, and an increased risk of heart attack. Repeated vomiting can also cause an inflammation of the esophagus and erosion of tooth enamel, as well as damage to salivary glands.

Essential: Bulimia is different from anorexia in that many individuals with bulimia "binge and purge" in secret and maintain normal or above normal body weight, so they can often hide the disorder from others for years.

Like those with anorexia, many people with bulimia suffer from clinical depression and anxiety as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses.

A person with bulimia may do the following:

  • Become very secretive about food, usually planning the next binge session.
  • Take frequent trips to the bathroom, especially right after eating.
  • Steal food and/or hide it in strange places.
  • Engage in compulsive exercising.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is probably one of the most common types of eating disorders and is more common in women than in men. A majority of the people who are afflicted with this disorder are overweight or obese, but not all. A binge eating disorder results in a person's inability to control the desire to overeat. Most people with this disorder keep it an exclusive secret. Unlike bulimia, people with a binge eating disorder do not purge their food. Binge eating does show up in bulimia.

People with binge eating disorder do not eat highly nutritious diets and are at a greater risk for illness because they may not be getting the correct nutrients. They usually eat large amounts of fats and sugars, which don't have a lot of vitamins or minerals.

People with binge eating disorder may do the following:

  • Feel their eating is out of control.
  • Eat what most people would think is an unusually large amount of food.
  • Eat much more quickly than usual during binge episodes.
  • Eat until so full they are uncomfortable.
  • Eat large amounts of food, even when they are not really hungry.
  • Eat alone because they are embarrassed about the amount they eat.
  • Feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating.
People with binge eating disorder should be advised to get immediate help from a mental health professional. For help with weight loss, they should also be advised to seek out help from a registered dietitian. Even those who are not overweight are usually upset by their binge eating, so treatment can help them.

Treating Eating Disorders
There are several different ways to treat eating disorders; presently there is no universally accepted standard of treatment. It is ideal to take an integrated approach to treatment, including the skills of registered dietitians, mental health professionals, endocrinologists, and other medical doctors. Types of psychotherapy that are often used include cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and family and group therapy. Drug therapy, such as antidepressants, may be helpful for some people.

If an individual displays any of the characteristics described here for any type of eating disorder, he or she should be taken to a physician, nutritionist, or other professional with expertise in diagnosing eating disorders as soon as possible.

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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