Eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia
Eating disorders usually begin during adolescence. In fact, lately there is an increase in eating disorders among adolescents, especially teenage girls. The most common of these disorders, Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia Nervosa, often threaten the normal growth and health of young girls, while Anorexia Nervosa can, in certain cases, become fatal.
According to research, in Greece, 6% of the population (1% from anorexia nervosa and 5% from bulimia nervosa), suffers from eating disorders, while an additional 7% shows certain symptoms of one or both illnesses, thus the total percentage rises up to 13%.
Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder with many negative repercussions in your health, particularly when chronic. It’s a mental illness and is characterized by the obsession of a girl to lose weight, even if it is in normal levels for her age. People with anorexia usually severely restrict the amount of food they eat and may also try to lose weight by exercising excessively. Just to be clear, Anorexia Nervosa isn’t caused by diet, but a diet almost always precedes this disorder. Girls suffering from Anorexia Nervosa tend to be perfectionists, get high scores in school, are very eager to please others, have low self-esteem that may co-exist with depression.
Anorexia Nervosa can severely damage a girl’s health. Inadequate food intake causes a decrease in metabolism, that causes slow heart rate. Furthermore, other organs of the body are also affected, while an abnormally low body weight can cause absence of period in females. Anorexia nervosa leads to reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones. Other symptoms are hair loss and dry skin.
People with bulimia nervosa frequently consume unusual quantities of food (overeating), in a short period of time, without being necessarily hungry. Later on, feeling guilty and discomfort, they vomit after eating or misuse laxatives, diet aids, diuretics. This cycle is repeated several times per day. This can cause serious gastrointestinal problems, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and dental erosion due to gastric acids from vomiting.
Emotional overeating is still an eating disorder that may appear during adolescence. The consumption of large quantities of food, not caused by hunger, but from stress, boredom depression and other emotional disorders, can lead to obesity.
Officially, obesity is considered a medical problem and not a mental disturbance, however it can have serious negative psychological effects during puberty, that can be equally serious with the organic disorders. Obesity usually indicates a predisposal for eating disorders as well as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are very serious disorders for a girl’s health and should be treated at an early stage. Treatment is generally done using a team approach that includes mental health providers, pediatricians and dietitians. In case you or your friend show similar symptoms, you need to talk to your parents or your friend and visit a therapist as soon as possible. With the help of specialists you will soon feel better. Always remember there is a solution to every problem.Maria Skoura
Nutritionist, Scientific Associate of the Greek Society of Adolescent Medicine