Eating disorders are a serious affliction affecting about 11 million Americans. Of those 11 million, about 10 million are females. Eating disorders, in simple terms, are when you have an unhealthy relationship with food. There are different forms of eating disorders that involve fasting, binge eating, or purging. There are underlying mental or emotional issues that accompany eating disorders. People with eating disorders might have a fear of being overweight, be obsessed with their body image, or have illogical or unreal expectations about how they should look.
Anorexia is an eating disorder where people become obsessed with losing weight. They fast or eat very little, causing them to lack the necessary vitamins and nutrients necessary for proper body function. Many anorexics continue to think that they are overweight even when they are drastically underweight. Besides the emotional insecurities associated with anorexia, there are also physical consequences to the disorder. Anorexics drop to an unhealthy body weight, often appearing to be just "skin and bones". Hair and nails become dry and brittle and the skin becomes pale and sickly. Prolonged anorexia can also cause women to miss menstrual cycles.
People suffering with bulimia fluctuate between periods of fasting and refusing food, followed by binges where they overeat. The act of overeating can cause feelings of guilt. To compensate for the binge eating many people with bulimia will induce vomiting. Others will use laxatives, fast after the binge for an extended period, or over-exercise. This behavior is cyclical and can occur several times a week or up to several times a day. There are many physical problems that can result from bulimia including dehydration, constipation, gastric reflux, infertility, problems with the esophagus from vomiting, erosion of the teeth from gastric acid during vomiting, ulcers, and more.
Bulimia can be much tougher to detect because those suffering from bulimia are very secretive about it. Most people with bulimia are of about average weight, so their physical appearance would not suggest that they have an eating disorder. If you suspect a friend or family member may be suffering from bulimia there are some signs to look for:
- Frequent trips to the bathroom right after meals
- Frequent complaints of a sore throat
- Cuts or scarring on the back of the hand (From inserting fingers into their throat to induce vomiting)
- Frequent weight fluctuations