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Dreaming the same dream, but using different wrong paths to reach it: anorexia versus bulimia

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Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, or backgrounds and can be influenced greatly by the media. It’s important for people to learn about the different types of eating disorders, so that they can help others that they feel may be suffering from an eating disorder. Two of the most prevalent eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Although anorexia and bulimia are both eating disorders, they are very different from one another.

The media has a very big effect on how body images are perceived in today’s day in age which in a lot of ways is promoting unhealthy weight loss and eating disorders in people of all ages. As time has gone on, models and actresses have gotten thinner which is partly why young people’s perception of “beauty” has changed so dramatically. “A number of studies have documented the trend of increasing thinness in Playboy centerfolds, Miss America Contestants, and fashion models between the 1950’s and the 1990’s” (Spettigue). This just proves that the standard of “beauty” is getting thinner. This is causing young girls to want to be thinner by taking whatever measures it takes whether it be healthy weightloss or eating disorders. The media not only puts a huge emphasis on being thin and being “beautiful” but also on the importance of a person’s appearance in general. “The multi-billion dollar beauty industry depends on a strong emphasis on the value of beauty and appearances for women, because this supports a consumption-based culture in which the answer for any problem can be achieved by purchasing advertised products for improving one’s appearance” (Spettigue). This is completely true. Without people feeling bad about themselves and feeling like they have to look a certain way, then there would be a huge drop in sales in the beauty industry. If everybody felt good about themselves, less people would be buying makeup, diet pills, etc. because they wouldn’t feel the need to change their appearance. Therefore, the media has a huge effect on what people perceive as beauty and the developing of eating disorders.

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Anorexia is a very serious eating disorder that almost 3 million people in the world suffer from. Anorexia is defined as “an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height” (Www.mentalhealth.gov.). It affects mostly women with 85%-95% of anorexics being female however, it also affects males as well. People that have anorexia nervosa have an strong fear of gaining weight, limit the foods that he or she eats even though he or she is often too thin, and think about food more than the average person. Nobody is 100% sure what exactly causes anorexia, although there are many different situations and things that can lead to it. These things include trying to fit a certain model or ideal of beauty (culture), having a family member with anorexia, having parents or family who criticize their children’s bodies/eating habits, promote looking a certain way, or diet themselves, having stressful events or life changes happen (things such as rape, starting a new job, moving, etc.), having certain personality traits (such as not liking him or herself or they way he or she looks, feeling hopeless, wanting to be “perfect”, etc.), and biology (genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain may cause anorexia). Many people believe that anorexia is a way for somebody to relieve anger, anxiety, or tension and to have complete control over some aspect of their life.

Bulimia is defined as “an eating disorder and a severe mental illness that can go undetected for a long time where people will binge eat large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time, and feel that they have no control over the amount of food consumed, or the ability to stop” (Bulimia Nervosa.). After binge eating this food, people with bulimia will either purge by making themselves throw up or by taking laxatives. Some bulimics exercise a lot along with binging and purging to prevent weight gain. Often times, this exercise is to excess in an unhealthy amount. Bulimia nervosa is a sign of a severe mental health problem and should not be seen as a simple “lifestyle choice”. Bulimia can be a very hard eating disorder to notice, because people with bulimia nervosa often have a body weight that is close to if not in the healthy range for their height, age, and gender. Studies have shown that 2-3 in 100 women in America and up to 5% of college women in America suffer from bulimia nervosa. Like anorexia, the causes for bulimia are unknown although it is predicted that they are likely the same as the causes for anorexia nervosa. Bulimia can be started as a way for people to relieve anxiety or tension in their lives by having control over their untypical eating habits. Other causes may include having parents or family who criticize their children’s bodies/eating habits, promote looking a certain way, or diet themselves, having stressful events or life changes happen (things such as sexual abuse, moving, etc.), trying to fit a certain model of “beauty” (culture), having personality traits such as not liking him or herself or they way he or she looks, feeling hopeless, or wanting to be “perfect”, having a family member such as a mother or sister with anorexia, and/or genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain.

Anorexia affects a person’s body in many negative ways on both on the inside and on the outside. The effects that you can see on a person with anorexia often their hair being brittle and even falling out and thinning. Their nails may appear a yellowish tint and they are also very brittle and chip easily. Anorexic’s skin is also often dry, covered with very fine hair, and may appear to be patchy and have a yellow shade to it. People with anorexia get cold very easily and the fine hair all over their bodies tries to keep them warm. Their skin bruises very easily and the bruises are often very dark and very large. On the inside of an anorexic’s body there are many more effects. According to Www.mentalhealth.gov., people with anorexia often have many heart or blood problems including a slow heart rate, low blood pressure, heart flutters, and/or anemia. They also are prone to many bone problems such as “bone loss, osteoporosis, swollen joints, and fractures” (Www.mentalhealth.gov.). A person with anorexia’s brain is also severely affected by the disorder and this often leads to poor judgement, poor memory, and confused or slow thinking. Menstrual periods will stop and constipation often sets in due to their body not having enough energy to carry out simple tasks. Weak muscles, wasting away of muscles, bloating, and kidney failure are all also effects of anorexia nervosa on the body.

Like anorexia, people with bulimia have an array of both visible and non-visible effects. “People with bulimia often show signs of throwing up such as swollen cheeks or jaw area, calluses or scrapes on the knuckles (if using fingers to induce vomiting), teeth that look clear, and broken blood vessels in the eyes” (Bulimia Nervosa.). According to a personal interview with a college aged girl named Julia Smith, cuts and scrapes on a person with bulimia’s fingers and knuckles is very common. She suffered from bulimia for years, and she states that her fingers and knuckles were always “all cut up and sore” when she was bulimic, because she used her fingers to make herself throw up after eating anything. People with bulimia often have a lot of internal problems as well with their stomachs, throats, bones, nerves, muscles, and hearts. Bulimic people often have a lot of problems with having dental problems such as tooth decay and sore throats due to the fact that they are frequently throwing up. Frequent vomiting and the use of laxatives also often lead to stomach and intestinal ulcers, indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, and prolapsed bowel. Purging frequently can also cause an electrolyte imbalance due to the fact that certain electrolytes are unable to be digested before they are thrown up. This can lead to nerve damage, severe dehydration, and organ and muscle damage. Weakened bones, irregular heart beats, slow heart rate, and heart failure are all also possible side effects of having bulimia nervosa.

There are many symptoms to look out for when wondering if somebody has anorexia nervosa. Some of the most common symptoms of somebody with anorexia is them having a low body weight for their height, age, and gender (usually 15% or more below a normal weight) and refusing to stay at a healthy weight, talking about their weight or body shape more than the average person, having a fear of gaining weight or becoming “fat”, and/or thinking that he or she is fat even though they are often very thin. They often don’t eat or eat very little (especially around others), count calories, weigh their food, cut their food up into very small pieces, and move their food around their plate a lot rather than actually eating it. People with anorexia often refuse to admit how serious their weight loss actually is due to embarrassment or to hide their disorder. “Some things to watch for when wondering if somebody has anorexia is skipping meals or making excuses not to eat, eating only a few foods, refusing to eat in public, planning and preparing elaborate meals for others, but not eating, constantly weighing themselves, cutting food into tiny pieces, and/or compulsive exercising.” (Ehrlich). Anorexics often exercise very often even when they are sick or in bad weather, because they want to burn off the calories from any food they have eaten recently. People with anorexia also often have other psychological disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior, etc.

Some of the signs to look out for when wondering if a person has bulimia nervosa are very similar to those that people with anorexia nervosa exhibit. Bulimia can be a hard eating disorder to notice due to the fact that people with bulimia nervosa very often have a body weight that is close to if not in the healthy range for their gender, height, and age. However, there are certain warning signs to pay attention to that people with bulimia show that can help others to notice their eating disorder. Like anorexia, people with bulimia often have problems with eating in front of others, exercise a lot, have a fear of gaining weight or getting “fat”, have a distorted body image, and hate his/her body. Bulimic people often will use diet pills and laxatives to promote urination or bowel movements. People with bulimia go to the bathroom a lot (especially after eating) so that they can throw up any food that they may have eaten recently. Frequent vomiting can also lead bulimic’s hands to have scrapes, cuts, or calluses if they are using their fingers to induce throwing up. It can also lead to a person’s jaw or cheek area to be swollen, their teeth to look clear due to tooth decay, and the blood vessels in their eyes to break. Also like anorexia, people with bulimia often have other psychological health conditions such as anxiety, substance abuse, and/or depression. According to Www.womenshealth.gov “Bulimia can also cause someone to not act like her or himself. She or he may be moody or sad, or may not want to go out with their friends like they used to.” (“Bulimia Nervosa Fact Sheet). The fact that people suffering with bulimia are often very depressed/sad, hopeless, and hate themselves or their bodies, it is very hard for them to go out with friends and have a good time, even if they used to enjoy it.

Although anorexia and bulimia are different disorders, have different effects on the body, and have different symptoms, a person can help people with both of these disorders in the same way. It is almost impossible for people with anorexia or bulimia to get better all by themselves or even just with the help of friends and family. If a person thinks that somebody they know is suffering from either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa then the first step is to set up a time where they can talk to the person alone. During this time, they should tell them about their concerns without placing blame or making them feel guilty. Terms such as “just stop”, “don’t do it anymore”, and “you need to eat more” are all terms to avoid. A person with anorexia or bulimia usually have no control over their actions and realize that what they are doing is harmful to their bodies, but are unable to stop. A person trying to help another with one of these eating disorders should then ask their friend to talk to a professional. Doctors, therapists, and nutritionists all can help people suffering from either of these disorders get better. Doctors and therapists will both help to treat any underlying psychological illnesses associated with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder. This will help the person suffering from one of these disorders to get rid of any of the actions or thoughts that cause the eating disorder. Nutritionists will create meal plans and help work with their patients to make sure they’re eating correctly so that they can get back to a healthy weight for their age, gender, and height. If all of these things are done, then it is very possible for a person suffering from one of these eating disorders to get better.

In conclusion, although anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have a lot in common, they are very different. Both of these eating disorders are affected greatly by the media, may be caused by the same things, have extreme effects on the body, and can be cured in the same ways. However, the effects on the body for each disorder are very different from each other and they have different signs and symptoms from one another. These are both very serious eating disorders and should be treated as so. If a person thinks that somebody they know may be suffering from one of these disorders, then they definitely need to take it seriously, talk to them about it, and help them/convince them to get professional help.

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