Anorexia and Bulimia: A Critical Analysis

Table of Contents

Introduction

Nutrition is the process through which living organisms and cells are provided with food materials necessary to support life. Humans need to consume food to survive. The various nutrients contained in food are responsible for the various physiological processes in the body. Without proper feeding, humans are likely to suffer from a number of health related disorders associated with deficiency (Ruggiero 23). Research shows that the lack of these nutrients may be as a result of diseases in humans. The diseases may directly or indirectly contribute to lack of essential nutrients in the diet. The diseases are often referred to as nutritional disorders. In this paper, the author seeks to analyze two nutritional disorders in humans. The two are anorexia and bulimia.

Anorexia is a nutritional disorder associated with lack of appetite. As a result, individuals suffering from the disorder consume low quantities of food and suffer from gradual weight loss. The individuals are affected by dizziness and drowsiness as a result of the condition. The symptoms are often associated with inadequate energy in their body. Bulimia, on the other hand, refers to an eating disorder characterized by high food intake. The increased intake persists for a short period of time. It is followed by an effort to rid oneself of the food, usually through self induced vomiting (Whitehead and Kurz 348). Ruggiero claims that just like persons suffering from anorexia, “bulimia sufferers are greatly concerned about their weight” (23). The Individuals attempt to keep their weight under a threshold that is self imposed. To cut on their weight, they may resort to practices like fasting for long durations of time. Individuals affected by the two nutritional disorders suffer from health deterioration as a result of reduced food intake. They are predisposed to nutritional diseases, such as malnutrition.

Bulimia

Watson states that bulimia, “also commonly referred to as bulimia nervosa, is characterized by high food intake for a short period of time followed by an effort to rid oneself of the food” (46). One of the most common practices among individuals suffering from the disorder is purging. The purging is brought about by unhealthy concerns over their body weight. Another compensatory behavior commonly observed among these individuals involves prolonged fasting (Watson 46). The two habits come about as a result of an attempt to keep their body weight at a set or self-imposed limit that the individual desires.

Although bulimia is not considered as life threatening as anorexia, it affects a considerable part of the American population, notably the adolescent. Up to 2 percent of the adolescent population is affected by this condition. Although women constitute 90- 95 percent of all bulimics, there is a considerable increase of bulimia cases among men. There is very little data on the spread and effects of bulimia on the general population. However, some groups are believed to be more susceptible to the condition compared to others. The most affected individuals include those engaging in activities ideal for a slim body structure (Ruggiero 23). Such activities include gymnastics, modeling, cheer leading, acting, diving, figure modeling, and skating.

Bulimia is more prevalent among Caucasians than in other groups. However, recent studies have shown that African American teenage girls are also likely to exhibit bulimic behavior (Ruggiero 23). Affected individuals usually maintain a constant body weight. They may also be slightly over or underweight. Psychiatric conditions, such as mood disorders, impulse control, anxiety, and substance misuse, are also associated with most bulimics.

The genetic composition of an individual, to some extent, predisposes them to the nutritional disorder. Findings of research conducted in this area have established a link between genetics and syndromic bulimia. Such hormones as serotonin have also been shown to be responsible for some abnormal eating habits (Watson 46). A decrease in the levels of tryptophan in blood plasma leads to reduced levels of tryptophan in the brain. The decrease is associated with dieting. It spurs the synthesis of serotonin in the brain. Proteins that aid in the development, repair, and survival of neurons are also under investigation as possible culprits for the development of bulimia.

Studies have shown that sex hormones are significantly related to eating habits. They may lead to the onset of the disease (Watson 46). Excessive production of androgens and the failure of endocrine glands to maintain a regular internal environment can affect the appetite for carbohydrates and fats. The thin ideal is responsible for bulimia within a social and cultural context (Ruggiero 23). Individuals who conform to the society’s idea of attractiveness, which comes with slimming, are susceptible to the health condition. The individuals express a sense of dissatisfaction with their body size and shape. As a result, they develop low self-esteem. The urge to slim promotes dieting and other negative feeding habits, which may lead to bulimia.

Bulimia can be life threatening. The disorder manifests itself through various signs and symptoms. They include self-induced vomiting that leads to loss of essential ions, which results into chemical and electrolyte imbalances in the body. Dehydration and loss of critical vitamins and minerals also occurs as a result of vomiting (Ruggiero 23). The loss of these nutrients may result to serious health issues, such as irregular heartbeat, decline in cardiac function, and even death. Lacerations also occur in the oral cavity due to repetitive insertion of fingers during induced vomiting. The lacerations may lead to oral trauma and predispose the individual to bacterial infection. Individuals suffering from the disorder often have scars at the back of their hands as a result of repeated trauma from incisors as they attempt to induce vomiting using fingers. Since bulimia is a psychiatric illness, delusions and depression may occur.

The treatment of bulimia takes many forms. While the goal is to restore normal eating habits, there is a need to tackle medical complications that arise from the condition and any underlying psychological disorders. Treatment can be through nutritional counseling that helps patients learn to space meals and structure their eating habits (Watson 46). It also aids them in adjusting their daily calorie intake to amounts necessary to maintain weight. Research has proven that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is effective in treating bulimic adults. The therapy helps patients to identify misconceptions and change their distorted thoughts concerning food and health. Combining CBT with other types of psychotherapy also helps the patient deal with psychological symptoms associated with the disorder and avoid relapse. Drug therapy may also be of great importance in the treatment of the nutritional disorder (Watson 46). Antidepressants are the most commonly used drugs.

Bulimia is a difficult condition to treat. Some bulimics who undergo treatment relapse. In addition, individuals who positively change their eating habits after treatment exhibit slightly less than normal eating habits (Watson 46). The effectiveness of the treatment procedures depends on the ability and willingness of the patient to change their perception on body weight. Counselors and educators can help reduce incidences of the nutritional disorder by helping the young population change their perceptions on weight.

Anorexia

It is another form of nutritional disorder. It is characterized by restricted intake of food as a result of fear of gaining weight. Individuals suffering from the disorder “attempt to shed weight through excessive exercise and self starvation” (Whitehead and Kurz 348). Some may induce vomiting or misuse diuretics and laxatives. Just like in the case of bulimia, anorexics are scared of putting on weight. Consequently, they significantly reduce food intake, leading to metabolic and hormonal disorders. The disorder is characterized by low body weight. Persons suffering from the disorder are obsessed with the idea of having a slim body structure and exhibit exaggerated fear of putting on weight (Whitehead and Kurz 348).

Although anorexia can affect both men and women, it is more prevalent among the latter. The disorder often sets in during adolescence and affects individuals as young as 12 years of age. The condition is also highly heritable, meaning that family ties can predispose a person to the disorder (Ruggiero 23). Mineral deficiency may also contribute to the onset of the disorder. In addition, social and cultural factors may play a role in the onset of the condition. For instance, the slimming ideal among teenagers and the youth may predispose them to the disorder. Many individuals within this age bracket associate slimming with attractiveness. As a result, they are compelled to lose weight so as to gain acceptance in the society. Individuals who experience social pressure to slim are the most susceptible to the disorder. Anorexia is known to likely occur among populations where obesity is prevalent (Whitehead and Kurz 348). People suffering from anorexia “feel hungry but deliberately deny themselves food or restrict their food intake only to small quantities” (Yager and Andersen 1488). Cases of extreme self starvation are common within this group of individuals.

There are two main categories of anorexia. The first form occurs where an individual restricts their calorie intake to only a few hundreds. The disorder taking this form is regarded as the restricting type of the condition. Individuals suffering from this type of anorexia restrict their intake of certain types of foods. They keep count of calories they have taken, skip meals, and exhibit rigid thoughts concerning weight gain. The second type involves binge eating and purging. As a result, individuals lose control and eat. With the fear of putting on weight, they may induce vomiting or engage in excessive exercise to burn the extra calories that they have gained (Whitehead and Kurz 348).

Individuals suffering from anorexia exhibit a number of signs. The individuals are often underweight and resist attempts to increase their body mass. The body weight of these individuals may be up to 15 percent below normal. Intense fear of putting on weight, even when underweight, is another characteristic exhibited by people suffering from anorexia (Ruggiero 23). The fear is so powerful that an individual can diet up to the point of starvation. It is important to note that individuals suffering from anorexia do get hungry. However, their fear of gaining weight discourages them from eating. They eat very slowly or avoid eating all together. The individuals are concerned that they will gain weight if they eat. Persons with anorexia usually have an irrational obsession with their body image and have a distorted perspective of reality that prevents them from seeing the effects that their habit has on their health (Yager and Andersen 1487). Anorexic people see themselves as fat even when they are dangerously thin. Symptoms of anorexia include iron deficiency, reduced immune function, intestinal problems, and cardiac problems. Anorexia has a high mortality rate compared to other psychiatric disorders. Knowledge about the condition, its signs and symptoms, is important in its early detection and arrest.

Early intervention and treatment of the disorder leads to improved outcomes. The treatment of anorexia aims at addressing three main issues. To begin with, the treatment of the disorder attempts to restore an individual’s weight back to normal (Whitehead and Kurz 348). Secondly, the underlying psychological conditions related to the disorder are addressed to protect an individual from relapsing. Counseling is then undertaken to eliminate the thoughts that had originally led to the disorder.

A Comparison between Bulimia and Anorexia

There are a number of differences and similarities between the two nutritional disorders. However, more similarities than differences are evident between the two. First, the two disorders begin with a period of dieting by persons who fear becoming overweight (Yager and Andersen 1487). In addition, individuals suffering from the two disorders are often insecure about their body size and shape. As a result, the individuals are anxious and always show the need to be perfect. Slimming is the ideal goal for individuals suffering from the two disorders. The individuals continuously attempt to get rid of more and more weight even when they are in danger of malnutrition.

Drug abuse often accompanies the two disorders (Whitehead and Kurz 348). Individuals tend to use drugs aimed at reducing their body weight. As a result, drug addiction may arise, leading to abuse. The treatment of the two diseases is also similar, with the primary objective being the restoration of weight of the patients to normal. Individuals suffering from the disorder have a distorted view of themselves (Watson 38). As a result, they always view themselves as overweight no matter how much emaciated they might be.

In addition to the similarities, there are a number of differences between the two disorders. To begin with, anorexia is common among teenagers, while bulimia is common among women in their twenties. The latter is common especially among those women whose activities require a slim body (Whitehead and Kurz 348). Individuals suffering from the two disorders are obsessed with being slim. However, those suffering from anorexia show noticeable loss of weight, while those suffering from bulimia maintain a constant weight that they feel is ideal for them (Ruggiero 23). Individuals suffering from bulimia often experience episodes of binge eating. However, those suffering from anorexia avoid feeding.

Conclusion

Nutrition is of great importance as far as maintaining health and normal functioning of the body is concerned. Individuals must consume the right combination of nutrients to support their body’s metabolic processes. However, there exist a number of nutritional disorders that either directly or indirectly affect the availability of essential nutrients in the diet. A good example of these disorders is anorexia and bulimia. The two disorders are characterized by an obsession with one’s body weight. Individuals suffering from the conditions exhibit a pathological fear of gaining weight. As a result of this fear, the individuals are often underweight.

Works Cited

Ruggiero, Adriane. Bulimia, Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Print.

Watson, Stephanie. Bulimia, New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2007. Print.

Whitehead, Kally and Tim Kurz. “Saints, Sinners and Standards of Femininity: Discursive Constructions of Anorexia Nervosa and Obesity in Women’s Magazines.” Journal of Gender Studies 17.4 (2008): 345-358. Print.

Yager, Joel and Arnold Andersen. “Anorexia Nervosa.” New England Journal of Medicine 353.14 (2005): 1481-1488.

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