Eating Disorders and Their Sufferers

Media hype suggests that skinny is always in . . . in style; in vogue; in with the in crowd, indeed. For the more than 5 million Americans who suffer from an eating disorder, most of them women, pursuit of the perfect size 0 can usher in trouble, in a hurry.

With each passing year, eating disorders show up in increasingly younger members of the population. Boys are now part of the picture, too, with more and more cases of young males being referred for professional help with food-related risky behaviors.

Many forms of eating disorders exist. Even the most common among these illnesses — anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating — are complicated health issues that too often go undiagnosed and untreated.

Recognizing signs and symptoms of an eating disorder in a friend, family member, or in a moment of self-realization can be the critical first step toward recovery.

Anorexia Nervosa

The reflection returned from a mirror to someone suffering from anorexia nervosa is an image of horrible imperfection - fatness beyond belief, even if the real picture is flesh stretched over bones that show beneath the skin.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by obsession with thinness. Sufferers eat little or nothing and resort to all sorts of behaviors to keep their bodies void of fat-producing food, including fasting, vomiting, enemas, and laxatives.

The onset for anorexia in females, the primary population who develops the disease, typically is between ages 10 and 16. Puberty brings on natural changes in a girl's body, with increases in body fat serving a key biological function. If a young woman feels she has no control over the way she's shaping up, she may resort to strict governing of her diet. The anorexic mindset, however, distorts the body image into relentless obesity. No weight reduction measure helps enough, and the quest to shrink becomes constant and uncompromising.

Bulimia Nervosa

Half of those suffering from anorexia go on to develop bulimia nervosa, which shifts behavior from restricting nourishment to gorging on huge amounts of food . . . and then throwing it all up. The bingeing and purging cycle repeats several times a day or once or twice a week. Symptoms can disappear for a while, and resurface during times of stress.

Like anorexics, bulimics grapple with self image and the threat of weight gain. People with bulimia can disguise their disorder for longer periods than anorexics, because they often maintain normal or slightly heavier body size.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eaters find a friend in food, especially when they experience feelings of sadness, guilt, or repulsion with their own problems. Like those individuals with bulimia, binge eaters ingest massive quantities of food in a short amount of time. But binge eaters, many of whom are obese or who have lost lots of pounds through dieting, make no effort to rid themselves of the banquet after they eat beyond a feeling of fullness. Considered the most common eating disorder, binge eating affects up to 50% of the people enrolled in weight control programs.

If you or someone you know has more of an appetite for weight loss than wellness, give thought to what you have to gain from getting real and getting healthier. Eating disorders respond best to early treatment. If a pattern of starving, bingeing, purging, or feasting fast and furious takes hold, the road to recovery can stretch much longer and be more dangerous in its passage.