Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

            Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a profound disturbance of body image and the relentless pursuit of thinness, often to the point of starvation. The disorder has been recognized for many decades and has been described in various persons with remarkable uniformity. The disorder is much more prevalent in females than in males and usually has its onset in adolescence (Bernstein et al., 1991). The patient has a characteristic fear of becoming fat, even when drastically underweight. They exhibit disturbances of body image; they feel fat or misshapen and often deny their emancipation (Wilkinson, 1997). However, do experts tell us, contrary to report in the popular press, anorexia nervosa is a relatively rare disorder, occurring in only about 0.10-1.0 percent of the population.

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            Bulimia nervosa, which is more common than anorexia nervosa, consists of recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food accompanied by a feeling of being out of control (Atkinson et al., 1993).  Social interruption or physical discomfort – that is, abdominal pain or nausea – terminates the binge eating, which is often followed by feelings of guilt, depression, or self-disgust. The person also has recurrent compensatory behaviors – such as purging (self-induced vomiting, repeated laxative use, or diuretic use), fasting, or excessive exercise – to prevent weight gain.

            Hypotheses of an underlying psychological disturbance in young women with the disorder include conflicts surrounding the transition from a girl to a woman. Psychological issues related to feeling of helplessness and to difficulty establishing autonomy have also been suggested as contributing to the development of the disorder anorexia nervosa. Those with bulimia, unlike anorexia patients, may maintain a normal body weight. Bulimia is more prevalent than anorexia with estimates of bulimia nervosa ranging from 1 to 3 percent of young women (Atkinson et al., 1993).

What to do when you see your best friend becoming painfully thin . . .

            Where to go when sister talks about how she looks and how much she weighs –

             most of the time. . .

                        When to say to yourself you’ve got to ask your pal the hard question –

                        like when you noticed her taking all that food out after bingeing. . .

            Detecting someone very close to you of having eating disorders can become

quite easy if you know the symptoms. You may admire the tenacity, determination and discipline of your sister, friend or relative to follow dieting rules and doing her exercises rigidly and diligently; however, the thin line between these traits and the drive that propel anorexics and bulimics to starve and purge, respectively, may be “thinner” than you think. Women may become obsessed because they cannot match today’s bombardment of beautiful, shapely and attractive women from magazines to films.

            What you know could mean life or death to the person closest you suffering from these two types of eating disorders. A symposium on “Looking through the eyes of Grace” examines the lives led by young, middle class, females whose stories chronicle their deathly walk towards self-annihilation.

            If you have any girls in the family, this may be your chance to check whether they do not tread the path of Grace. Interventions as early as possible are absolutely necessary. The earlier for loved ones to detect the signs and symptoms is critical for the disease to be arrested.

The collective effort of family and/or the patient’s support group can make a big difference towards gaining insight of the disease from the perspective of the patient. Unconditional support, keeping confidences and sustained emotional affirmation are just some of the few things that the coach and his/her team may be able to convey to the patient. Details concerning the symposium: Call 000-0000-000. Reserve a seat/bring a friend.


Atkinson, R.L., R.C. Atkinson, E.E. Smith, D.J. Bem, and S. Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993. Introduction to Psychology, 13th ed. New York: Harcourt College Publishers.

Bernstein, D.A., E.J. Roy, T.K. Srull, and C.D. Wickens, 1991. Psychology. New Jersey: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Wilkinson, J.D. and E.A. Campbell. 1997.  Psychology in counseling and therapeutic practice. New York: John Wiley and Sons.


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