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Healthy Women's World

Eating Disorders

  • By: Susan Murphy-Milano

  • Divorce and Eating Disorders

    In many cases, teenages girls whose parents are divorcing will often focus their attention on their body image because it is something that feel they can control.

    As their world around them, by that I mean the family environment is changing, they will go and do things that they want to change about them. Anorexia and bulimia are two very serious eating disorders. This is not a phase that will pass. It is a very serious Illiness and should be treated as such.

    Teenages, especially, with anorexia are determined to control the amounts of food they eat.
    People with bulimia tend to feel out of control where food is concerned.

    Anorexia affects seven out of every 100 teenage girls, although the illness can be experienced earlier and later in life. Most people who have anorexia are female, but males also develop the disorder. Bulimia may affect up to three in every hundred teenage girls. More females than males develop bulimia.

    It seems that few people meet the criteria for eating disorders, it is far more common for people to have unrealistic attitudes about body size and shape. These attitudes may contribute to inappropriate eating habits or dieting practices.
    Both illnesses can be overcome and it is important for the person to seek advice about either condition as early as possible.


    What are the symptoms of anorexia?

    a loss of at least 15 per cent of body weight resulting from refusal to eat enough food, despite extreme hunger;

    a disturbance of perceptions of body image in that the person may regard themselves as fat, overestimating body size the thinner they become;

    - an intense fear of becoming ‘fat’ and of losing control;
    - a tendency to exercise obsessively;
    - a preoccupation with the preparation of food;
    - making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food.

    Usually, anorexia begins with a weight loss, either resulting from a physical illness or from dieting. Favourable comments cause the person to believe that if thin is good, thinner is better. The body does not react well to starvation, and erratic eating behaviour begins to dominate the person’s life. About 40 per cent of people with anorexia will later develop bulimia.

    What are the symptoms of bulimia?

    eating binges which involve consumption of large amounts of calorie-rich food, during which the person feels a loss of personal control and self disgust;

    attempts to compensate for binges and to avoid weight gain by self-induced vomiting, and/or abuse of laxatives and fluid tablets; and
    combination of restricted eating and compulsive exercise so that control of weight dominates the person’s life.

    A person with bulimia is usually average or slightly above average weight for height, so is often less recognisable than the person with anorexia.

    Bulimia often starts with rigid weight reduction dieting in the "pursuit of thinness". Inadequate nutrition causes tiredness and powerful urges to binge eat. Vomiting after a binge seems to bring a sense of relief, but this is temporary and soon turns to depression and guilt. Some people use laxatives, apparently unaware that laxatives do not reduce what is refered to as fat content, and serve only to eliminate vital trace elements that will dehydrate the body.

    The person can make frantic efforts to break from the pattern, but the vicious binge/purge/exercise cycle, and the feelings associated with it, may have become compulsive and uncontrollable.

    A person with bulimia may experience chemical imbalances in the body which bring about lethargy, depression and clouded thinking.

    What causes anorexia and bulimia?

    The causes of anorexia and bulimia remain unclear. Biological, psychological and social factors are all involved. For some people, some of the following may compound low self-esteem and contribute to the onset of anorexia or bulimia:

    Social influences including magazine, television, billboards, create an unrealistic view of the ideal shape for all of us to be as slim and fit, with a tendency to stereotype overweight people in a negative manner.

    Personal factors

    Changes in life circumstances such as the onset of adolescence, breakdown of relationships, childbirth or the death of a loved one;

    fear of the responsibilities of adulthood;

    Poor communication between family members or parental reluctance to allow independence as children mature;

    a belief that love from family and friends depends on high achievement.

    Biological factors This includes chemical or hormonal imbalances (sometimes associated with adolescence).

    What are the effects of anorexia and bulimia?

    Physical effects

    The physical effects can be serious, but are generally reversible if the illnesses are tackled early. If left untreated, severe anorexia and bulimia can be life-threatening. Responding to early warning signs and obtaining early treatment is essential.

    Both illnesses, when severe, can cause:

    - harm to the kidneys;
    - urinary tract infections and damage to the colon;
    - dehydration, constipation and diarrhea;
    - seizures, muscle spasms or cramps (resulting from chemical imbalances);
    - chronic indigestion;
    - loss of menstruation or irregular periods;
    - strain on most body organs.

    Many of the effects of anorexia are related to malnutrition, including:

    - absence of menstrual periods;
    - severe sensitivity to the cold;
    - growth of down-like hair all over the body; inability to think rationally and to concentrate.

    Outpatient treatment and attendance at special programs are the preferred treatment for people with anorexia. Hospitalization may be necessary for those severely malnourished through lack of food. Treatment can include medication to assist severe depression and to correct hormonal and chemical imbalances.

    A Dietician along with specific therapies are used to help change unhealthy thoughts about eating, and educating the person that family and friends are supportive.

    Where to go for help

    Your family doctor. Your school or university advisor. Community Health Clinic or center.

    Or for a wide variety of important resources please visit:


    About the author: Susan Murphy Milano is the author of "Moving Out Moving On", when a relationship goes wrong available at Borders, Walden Books, Borders, Express and Amazon. And she is the author of "Defending Our Lives" getting away from domestic violence & staying safe (doubleday) She lectures on various subjects related to family issues and safety. Email address & contact:
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    Eating disorders