Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia


An eating disorder is characterized by a strong feeling of either eating or not eating which adversely affects the individual’s health both physically as well as mentally. These feelings can affect one’s daily activities such as relationships and emotional well being including attitude to work and this can extends throughout his/her life. The main eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa with similarities and differences regarding their causes and symptoms as well as treatment. Eating disorders can cause serious abnormal health conditions such as obesity and diabetes as well as other diseases related to the heart. Research has shown that eating disorders can affect any individual at any age but mostly affect young females.


According to (Andersen, 2002), an Eating disorder is characterized by an extreme behavior involving attitude towards the amount of food intake causing severe disturbances. The victim either reduces or increases the amount of food he/she is taking as a result of too much concern over his/her weight or body shape. When the problem begins, the individual gradually increases or reduces the amount of food intake up to a certain point when the desire becomes uncontrollable. Due to the complexity of eating disorders, most of the scientific researches conducted in past has given a clear explanation but diagnoses and treatment of the associated illnesses have been possible with the good classification of the disorders.

Eating disorders

(Andersen, 2002) argues that, there are two major classifications of eating disorders namely anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa though there are other eating disorders that are unspecified. This includes a variety of eating disorders with similarities to the first two but having different characteristics. An example is binge-eating disorders which have received a lot of research and attention. Research has shown that the frequency of eating disorders is rated highest at adolescence as well as young adulthood and in some cases, it can begin as early childhood and extend to adulthood. From a reliable study on eating disorders, females experience the behavior more frequently and severely compared to males of the same age where males account for only about15% of the disorders involving binge-eating, the rest is females.

According to (Bryant, 2003), eating disorders have both psychological as well as biological influences and can be treated although they are complex. However, when the condition is at advanced stages, specific treatment has been difficult. Even with the treatable cases, the program for the treatment is designed to fit the individual needs of the patient such as monitoring, counseling on nutrition, and medication as well as psychotherapy. If the patient has lost his/her weight below healthy levels or the weight gain is too high, he/she may require hospitalization to allow effective follow-up on the treatment. Some of the believed causes of the condition are psychiatric disorders like stress and depression as well as anxiety. Drugs and drugs abuse also have high potential in influencing eating disorders and even investigation on the use of drugs have in past used this condition as one of the bases which can lead to further investigation on the suspect. The condition causes other side effects on the physical health of the individual such as complications of the heart as well as kidney which can cause death.

Characteristics of Anorexia nervosa

(Bryant, 2003) found that, the patient becomes emaciated as a result of his pursuit to become thin and lack of effort to maintain a healthy weight. Consequently, he/she acquires distorted body image and accumulates a lot of fear in increasing weight. Females experience irregular menstrual cycles and in some cases, the menstruation may stop completely for several months especially if the girl or the woman has extremely disturbing behavior on her eating. Some of the methods used by those experiencing this condition are dieting and too much exercise. Others try self-induced vomiting if dieting and exercise prove not to be effective. A study on this condition has discovered that the majority of individuals with the condition think they are overweight while they could be starving as well as malnourished and they, therefore, become obsessed with weight control strategies. The individual assures himself by weighing himself/herself several times. When selecting food, he/she does it carefully and makes sure the quantity taken is very small and only from certain foods. Some of the patients when put on treatment recover quickly never to experience the condition again while others experience relapses when recovering. More chronic cases can take several years with the patient deteriorating in health as he/she continues to battle the condition.

(Lock, 2001) argues that, if an individual is experiencing anorexia, he/she is much likely to succumb to the condition in comparison with those without the illness. Among the conditions that cause death among patients with anorexia is cardiac arrest as well as fluid imbalances of the body’s electrolytes. Suicide has also been on record as another complication attributed to anorexia in some individuals. When this condition extends for a long time, other symptoms may manifest. These include bones becoming thin, the hair and nails become brittle, skin dries and assumes yellow color, and fine hair develops over the body. The patient suffers mild anemia and becomes generally weak due to loss of muscle. He/she experiences severe constipation and abnormally low blood pressure as well as a general drop of body temperature that makes the individual feel cold most of the time.

Treatment of Anorexia

According to (Lock, 2001), a treatment program for anorexia comprises three major components all of which have to learn simultaneously. The patient is helped to regain his/her healthy body weight if there was too much loss or shed a bit of the weight in case of overweight. The patient is also put under-treatment based on the psychological causes that could be leading to the extreme behavior in eating disorder and all other related issues. The individual’s thoughts that could also be causing disordered eating are also eliminated to prevent relapse. This is done through taking some medicines such as antipsychotics and antidepressants as well as mood stabilizers. Such medicines relieve one’s mood and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. However, some studies have found that taking antidepressants may not eliminate relapses effectively. During the initial stage of restoring normal weight for the patient, research indicates that there are no medicines that are effective in treating the condition. Generally, there are no clear medications in controlling anorexia but several types of research are being carried out to conquer the condition.

Bulimia nervosa

(Jordan, 2005) found that, this is an eating disorder that is characterized by excessive and frequent eating of food for example binge-eating where the patient has very little control over overeating. Patients suffering from binge-eating usually adopt other behaviors such as vomiting or even overuse of diuretics as well as laxatives to compensate for the condition. Some have been observed to have fasted and even engage in excessive physical exercise. Among the main differences between the patient with bulimia and those with anorexia is that bulimia patients maintain their weight within normal limits respective for their age. However, the condition is similar to anorexia in that, the patient fears adding weight and is desperate to lose the one he/she already has. Such patients tend to be unhappy with their shape and size. The cycle for binging as well as purging repeats severally even in a week. The patient tends to have other psychological illnesses that include depression and anxiety as well as drug abuse coexisting with the eating disorder. As a result of purging severally, the patient surfers other physical problems like electrolyte imbalances in the body and other conditions related to gastrointestinal disorders as well as teeth-related problems. Other minor problems include inflammation of the throat and swelling of glands around the neck and jaw. As a result of several vomiting, there is a lot of stomach acid in the mouth and this causes sensitivity of teeth which can lead to decay and wearing out of enamel. The patient experiences disorder in gastroesophageal reflux and irritation as well as distress in his/her intestines that results from the abuse of laxatives. A regular cycle of purging of body fluids may also result in acute dehydration of the patient.

Treatment of bulimia

(Jordan, 2005) argues that, the treatment involves several options that depend on the individual’s needs and which are administered as a combination. The patient is given nutritional counseling and therapy regarding cognitive behavior along with required medication. Such medication that has received approval from the United States administration dealing with food and drug is fluoxetine which reduces depression as well as anxiety. The drug also has the potential to control purging as well as binging cycle and greatly minimizes relapses and the general eating altitude of the patient. If treatment is based on therapy it can be designed for an individual as well as for a group.

Eating disorders among different races

According to (Lock, 2001), for a long time, the view of researchers regarding race and eating disorders has been incorrect because of the belief that eating disorders commonly affect white, teenage girls. Although the understanding of eating disorders has increased with more researches, the norm has not changed and people still believe that disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are for affluent girls and therefore most of those researches have always concentrated on whites. Initially, it was generally assumed that the two conditions cannot be found among blacks and Asians as well as Hispanic women and People thought that these categories were immune. According to several interviews on people who have interacted with patients of bulimia and anorexia, both at professional, as well as a personal level, reveal that all people regardless of their race or nationality stand equal chances of being affected by eating disorders. Some of the underlying factors on why black women appear resistant to the effects of anorexia and bulimia nervosa include socio-economic status and lack of proper knowledge in the issue as well as a culture that shielded the reality that they too were being affected.

(Lock, 2001) argued that, black women who are poor financially rarely seek treatment as a result of its high cost. With some, treatment for eating disorders is not catered for in their insurance cover. This inhibits the women from accessing published statistics regarding anorexia and bulimia at an equal rate with the white women of the same age. Some people believe that black women are not affected by eating disorders because they have natural ways of protecting themselves such as body ideal as well as being less genetically vulnerable. As a result, some illustrations provided by some researchers based on such beliefs have been published. Such an illustration is shown below.

According to (Lock, 2001), the below bar graph illustrates the outcome of research done to find out the effect of eating disorders among white and black women. This is a typical example of several such types of research that have been conducted in the past. The researchers already had a stereotype that white women are more prevalent to experiencing eating disorders than black women. According to the illustrations, white women are more concerned with losing weight compared to black women. The reason why black women will not concentrate much on losing weight is their positive self-esteem.


(George, 2007) concluded that, most of the researches conducted is not certain of the real causes of any of the eating disorders. Several researchers believe that the conditions involve disordered activities in the brain system and therefore are using this as a basis for understanding the problem. Nowadays the researchers are using the approach of studying human genes to find out if DNA variations are related to the mental disorders believed to be causing eating disorders.


Andersen E. (2002): Eating disorders in males and females: New York: Guilford Press pp34-41.

Bryant B. (2003): Childhood-onset eating disorders: New York: Guilford Press pp 210-214.

Lock J. (2001): Treatment Manual for Anorexia Nervosa: Blackwell synergy pp45-52.

Jordan J. (2005): Three psychotherapies for anorexia nervosa: The American Journal of Psychiatry pp 741-747.

George S. (2007): Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: Royal College of Psychiatrists pp25-36.

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PsychologyWriting. "Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia." January 14, 2022.