Severe weight loss leads to other physical and emotional complications. People who are anorexic or bulimic may experience several or all the following symptoms:
Living life with anorexia or bulimia can be a devastating experience, and without treatment, anorexia can be life-threatening. Also, after years of secret bingeing and purging, people with bulimia can develop serious gastro-intestinal disorders and other physical ailments than can threaten life. The denial of problems and thinking or feeling that 'nothing is wrong' are often part of the illness. Eating disorders can be overcome.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by a drastic weight loss from dieting, which can be accompanied by over-exercising and the abuse of laxatives. The individual's body image is distorted and an intense fear of becoming obese takes over. This can lead to emaciation, failing physical and psychological health and sometimes death. Most people with anorexia experience distorted thinking and do not recognize how underweight they are, which makes it difficult to convince them to seek treatment.
Bulimia nervosa is the most common clinical eating disorder. It is characterized by secretive episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives or diuretics, or excessive exercise and fasting. It is common for individuals to binge several times a week, during which they may consume as many as 5,000-10,000 calories in a manner of minutes or hours. Unlike anorexia, bulimia can be difficult to diagnose because it is secretive and people may maintain a fairly steady weight level due to the counterbalancing cycle of bingeing and purging.
The exact reasons as to why an individual develops an eating disorder is unknown, although certain pressures may lead an individual to anorexia or bulimia. For example:
Research has indicated that the earlier the appropriate intervention occurs, the more likely the eating disorder will be successfully overcome. The best approach is psychotherapy, which can include counselling for the family, along with group therapy with other people who have eating disorders. Medical treatments are used in severe cases. Finding a knowledgeable professional with whom you feel comfortable and can trust in discussing your situation is very important to one's success.
You may want to contact your family physician or the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, which has a national register of private therapists, medical programs and information. Their information line is (416) 340-4156.