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It is important to realise that stringent dieting plays a key role in problems of this nature but eating disorders are not simply cases of dieting that has become out of control.
Eating disorders are not just about trying to live up to media images of attractiveness, though social pressure to be thin may be a key factor.
Eating disorders can easily arise out of a response to distress and worries about areas of life other than body image or dieting.
Food is only part of the story.
Eating disorders are complex and can be life-threatening illnesses. They involve biological and psychological factors.
- Over 90% of people diagnosed with eating disorders are adolescent or young women.
- Eating disorders are rare in boys but increasing. The rate is less than one tenth that of females.
- Approximately 1% of females aged 15-30 in the US and UK suffers from anorexia nervosa, although estimates vary.
- About 2-3% of young women develop bulimia nervosa, but it is harder to detect and may be many more.
- There are about fifty times more female sufferers of bulimia nervosa than male.
- About 10% of sufferers of anorexia nervosa, and about 3% of sufferers of bulimia nervosa, die through their illness, often by suicide due to severe depression.
- At least 15% below normal body weight
- Person sees himself or herself as overweight even when extremely thin
- Person is terrified of weight gain
- Food and weight are obsessions
- Compulsive behaviour around food
- Amenorrhea in females (menstruation stops)
- Impotence in males
- Starvation causes damage to vital organs such as the brain and heart
- The body slows down to try to protect itself: periods stop, even breathing rate, pulse and blood pressure drop
- Nails and hair become brittle and the skin dries, yellows and grows downy hair
- Bones become brittle due to loss of calcium
- Excessive thirst and frequent urination
- Dehydration and, consequently, constipation
- Inability to cope with the cold due to lack of body fat
- Severe depression
- Consumption of large amounts of food (bingeing), followed by purging or exercising obsessively
- Obsession with body weight and shape
- Bingeing and purging from once or twice a week to several times a day
- Low self-esteem and fear of failure is typical (may not always be apparent)
- Strong need for acceptance and reassurance
- Risk of heart failure due to loss of nutrients, especially potassium; also when drugs used to stimulate vomiting, bowel movements and urination.
- Risk of stomach rupture.
- Acid in vomit wears tooth enamel and teeth scar backs of hands.
- Gullet (oesophagus) and cheeks become inflamed and swollen.
- Irregular menstruation.
- Loss of interest in sex.
- Severe depression.