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Purging to Perfection: Anorexia and BulimiaWe've already reviewed Anorexia and Bulimia through our partnership with the European Action on Drugs, but now we will discuss specifics about the disorders: what they are and why they occur. Whether it’s from the media, your family, friends, or sports team; the pressure to be thin is one that most people have felt at least once in their lives. While girls are more affected by this more than boys, how much you weigh, how you look, and the physical demands others place on you can lead to serious health disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Young girls might feel the need to be thin but might not be able to lose weight because they are still growing and developing, their bodies need the nutrients and their metabolism might not be high enough to burn off the extra calories. A nutritious diets and exercise can be too much responsibility for a teenager so often they will look for the easiest/fastest way to lose weight, which is through starvation (anorexia) or purging (bulimia). However, it’s important to know that anorexia and bulimia is about more than dieting and food, it is often about emotional control and a view of your own self worth. If you see being skinny as being “worthy” you might develop anorexia or bulimia. It’s a scary thought but girls as young as seven years old have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa[i], which causes you to obsess over what you eat and how much you weigh. While mostly teenage girls are diagnosed with anorexia, it does affect females younger than 13 and even into their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Men can also be affected by anorexia and since it is a disorder that can lead to serious health complications, both mental and physical, it’s a disorder that should not be taken lightly. Bulimia, like anorexia, is an eating disorder where you are obsessed with your weight and the amount of food you eat. However, with bulimia you might eat a large meal only to purge it later, either though vomiting or extreme exercise. Research shows that 85-90% of bulimics are women[i] and that an estimated 1.1 to 4.2% of women have had bulimia in their lifetime[ii]. Sports such as gymnastics or dance place a high priority on being in shape and having a certain body image, this can often led to you becoming obsessed to make weight. The same goes for modeling or any activity that involves the participant being judged on the way that they look. And unfortunately, it’s often our families and friends who also help to root these disorders. Parents can place a huge pressure on their children to be thin whether it’s by an offhand comment or expecting perfection from their children. Often children will become obsessed with the need to act and look perfect. It’s incredibly terrifying that we place such huge demands on others to look a certain way, so much so that they take drastic measures to fit in. While most people understand that anorexia and bulimia are serious disorders, they often don’t know about the serious side affects and risks. Anorexia can cause anemia, brittle hair and nails, a soft hair can cover your body, absence of menstruation, loss of testosterone in men, heart problems, depression, and death[iii]. Bulimia can cause damage to the teeth and gums from vomiting, sores in the throat and mouth, dehydration, heart problems, absence of menstruation, depression, and anxiety[iv]. A recent study found in The Lancet, stated that, “In a prospective long-term follow-up of 84 patients 21 years after first hospitalization for anorexia nervosa, we found that 50·6% had achieved a full recovery, 10·4% still met full diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, and 15·6% had died from causes related to anorexia nervosa[v]” Even 21 years later people are still affected by anorexia, some even through death. Education and awareness of these disorders needs to be a priority for teenagers early on. They need to obtain a healthy body image and not feel the pressure to be perfect by being thin.
If you think someone you know is anorexic or bulimic, be sure to watch for these symptoms: skipping meals, eating large extreme amounts of food, being secretive about eating, constantly weighing themselves, going to the bathroom during or after meals, counting calories, developing food habits, anger and irritability. It’s important to get help if you or someone you know is anorexic or bulimic, the risks associated with the disorder are incredibly serious and life threatening. The root of the problem lies further than physical appearance and we must remember to make those affected by the disorders feel worthy and confident no matter what their body type. Weight loss for all is proud to partner with the European Action on drugs on the use of drugs in weight loss.