What are anorexia nervosa and
They are problems
of health which manifest themselves as behavioural
disorders towards food and which may put life
at risk if not treated.
Mainly women are
affected by these health disorders, although men
can also suffer from them. They can manifest themselves
at any age but adolescents have them more often
due to their developmental changes and their search
for their own identity. Generally, the beginning
of the disorder goes unnoticed.
Anorexia and bulimia
patients share a common preoccupation with getting
fat, even if their weight might be normal or below
healthy standards. Food becomes the centre of
their worries neglecting other aspects of their
by either anorexia and bulimia show different
behavioural patterns. One person may have symptoms
of both disorders, either simultaneously or one
after the other.
is characterised by a fear of getting fat and
by a distorted perception of body image. Patients
feel and see themselves fat even if they are not.
This leads them to behave this way:
• They eats less and less.
• They do strenuous physical exercise, with
the sole purpose of getting thin.
• Occasionally, they throw up and/or use
diuretics and laxatives.
patterns lead to an excessive loss of weight which
may cause, in the initial stages, loss of the
menstrual cycle, progressive baldness or dry skin.
In advanced stages, malnutrition may lead to heart
and blood circulation disorders, serious hormone
disorders and others.
is also characterised by the fear of being fat,
but there is also a feeling of loss of control
towards food. These patients have compulsive gluttony.
To counterbalance these overeating spells they
try to induce vomiting and use laxatives in excess.
As they feel ashamed of themselves they hide their
actions and weight loss is not as apparent, which
is why bulimia does not show as clearly.
In both cases, we
must bear in mind that the problem is not the
food itself, but the low self-esteem these people
have of themselves. It is a MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM
WHICH CAN BE TREATED AND MUST BE PREVENTED.
Why do these health problems
Each society conditions
our ailments. Our present society, the fashion
industry, mass media and the advertising industry
messages, with the industry’s profit in
mind, (such as light products, diets, perfect
bodies, etc.) spread the principle that being
successful equals looking good, and that implies
women must be slim.
Dieting does not
necessarily involve a pathological behaviour,
but, on the contrary, it is an acceptable every
day habit. However, some people, at one time or
another, show some pathological features which
make them liable to be influenced by the messages
mentioned above, and they become obsessed as a
“The way and
the time each person EXPERIENCES, FEELS, UNDERSTANDS
OR TAKES IN these messages condition him or her
to either become ill or not.
Each person has
a different way of facing and solving problems
and has a particular opinion of himself/herself
because of his/her own character and personality.
The search for identity amongst
adolescents, and the progressive independence
and integration in groups outside the family make
the young people look for models to identify with,
which makes them more vulnerable to fashions.
Physical appearance becomes very important and
changes in life style are also present. Food,
schedules, etc. are part of these changes. All
this is normal, but if teenagers feel that their
bodies are an obstacle to their group integration,
they become likely candidates to get ill.
If we pay attention
to their development, to their changes, we can
do a lot to detect the symptoms and help prevent
How can we prevent them?
to be alert to different aspects of their lives;
as for instance:
• Does he/she have friends?
• Does he/she neglect or not his/her studies?
• Does he/she enjoy what he/she does?
• Is he/she sure of himself/herself?
for ourselves can be of vital importance to them,
and so they must be respected and listened to.
‘Life is hard’ is not advisable as
a solution in this case.
Family is the natural
environment for our development. Conflicts may
arise during the process of maturity. These conflicts
can be transferred to food disorders. It is within
the family where the first symptoms can be detected;
therefore, a warm family environment is highly
recommended. TO HAVE AND MAINTAIN A FLOW OF COMMUNICATION
AMONG THE FAMILY MEMBERS is indispensable to helping
detect and solve the conflicts that may arise.
This way, the young people will progressively
become familiar with their own abilities and also
For some young people
saying ‘no’ to food, or inducing vomiting
may be ways of expressing their feelings with
their bodies, in the absence of a better way to
Anorexia and bulimia
are the end product of a process which involves
many factors. TO PREVENT MEANS THAT WE MUST GET
INVOLVED AND BE ALERT. Teachers, parents, health
professionals, friends, club members, and so forth
must be alert and help adolescents to be able
to solve their own conflicts by themselves in
a healthy way.
If a young person
wishes to lose weight perhaps it is a reasonable
claim and to lose some would not be a bad idea.
Diets, on the other hand, must be carried out
under doctor supervision. It might be, though,
that discomfort with their body image is an early
warning of a malfunction somewhere.
This text was taken from the information bulletin,
‘Prevention of Anorexia and Bulimia in Adolescence’,
published by INSALUD and the Council for Health
and Social Services of the Autonomous Madrid Community.
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