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Eating: Do I have a problem with anorexia or bulimia?
For those statements above that apply to you, where were you more often in agreement that the statement represented something you do: in the top half of the list, or in the lower half?
Whichever symptoms you believe are true for you, please note that both disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses, with devastating physical consequences.
Those with anorexia usually have low body weight and body image distortion with an obsessive fear of gaining weight, which causes them to deprive themselves of food. Anorexia is the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses, because the extreme food restriction that characterises it can lead to starvation, malnutrition, and dangerously low body weight: all of which go hand in hand with a wide range of health problems, and often, death (Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV), 2012a).
Bulimia manifests as recurrent binge-eating episodes. These are characterised by consumption of abnormally large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time, followed by compensatory behaviours such as purging through self-induced vomiting or over-exercising. Bulimia is associated with a loss of control and feelings of shame and guilt after the eating episode, which induces the compensatory behaviours. Because many bulimics are close to average weight, the detection of the disorder can be delayed or missed altogether. Many times, the bulimia gets started when someone goes on a weight loss diet. The resultant food deprivation and inadequate nutrition set up a starvation reaction: an intense desire to eat. Once the person begins to give into the urge, it is difficult to impossible to stop, leading to the binge-purge (compensate) cycle (EDV, 2012b).
There are many! Psychological risk factors include feeling depressed, anxious, or inadequate, and having a perfectionistic personality, coupled with ineffective coping strategies, rigid thinking and fear of conflict. Many eating-disordered people come from families with poor parenting or communication skills. Social factors include the extreme value placed by Western cultures on being thin, and needing to have a “perfect body”; media collude with this emphasis on external appearances by portraying men’s and women’s bodies that are not representative of average, “real” men and women. Biological factors include imbalances in the body’s chemicals and hormones, plus emerging evidence of genetic predisposition. External factors associated with eating disorders include difficult life changes; peer pressure; ineffective stress management strategies; history of abuse; family history of obesity, depression, substance abuse, or eating disorders; and troubled personal or family relationships (EDV, 2012c).
Mind Your Head is an initiative of the Australian Counselling Association, a national professional association for qualified Counsellors.