Anorexia; Bulimia; Binge eating
Eating disorders are behavioral problems brought on by a complex interplay of factors, which may include emotional and personality disorders, family pressures, a possible genetic or biologic susceptibility, and a culture in which there is an overabundance of food and an obsession with thinness. There are four general categories of eating disorders:
These are not new disorders. Although anorexia nervosa was first defined as a medical problem in the late 1800s, descriptions of self-starvation have been found even in medieval writings.
Bulimia nervosa is more common than anorexia, and it usually begins early in adolescence. It is characterized by cycles of bingeing and purging, and typically takes the following pattern:
Young people who occasionally force vomiting after eating too much are not considered bulimic, and most of the time this occasional unhealthy behavior does not continue beyond youth.
The term "anorexia" literally means absence of appetite. Anorexia nervosa involves an aversion to food that leads to a state of starvation and emaciation. It is a very serious illness that some doctors believe is an entirely different condition from bulimia and should be not be diagnosed as a simple eating disorder.
Facts associated with anorexia nervosa:
Patients with this condition are often characterized as anorexia restrictors or anorexic bulimic patients. Each type is equally prevalent.
Severe anorexia is common in the elderly, who may experience weight loss because of social isolation, impaired gastrointestinal function, or loss of certain chemicals related to the feeding drive. Such age-related anorexia, however, is not synonymous with anorexia nervosa, which is a psychologic disorder.
Bingeing without purging is characterized as compulsive overeating (binge eating) with the absence of bulimic behaviors, such as vomiting or laxative abuse (used to eliminate calories). Binge eating usually leads to becoming overweight.
To be diagnosed as a binge eater, a person typically has the following characteristics:
Since binge eating disorder is generally associated with weight gain, it will not be further discussed in this report. [For more information, see In-Depth Report #53: Weight control and diet.]
A fourth category called eating disorders not otherwise specified (NOS) has been established to define eating disorders not specifically defined as anorexia or bulimia. This category includes:
Such patients tend to be older at diagnosis. Although less serious than other eating disorders, these patients still face similar health problems, including a higher risk for fractures and other conditions.
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