Anorexia, bulimia… should we seek help?

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Anorexia and bulimia are referred to as anxiety disorders of depression. Most of the time, they are considered as eating disorders, but the root of the problem goes far beyond a compensating ritual in patients. Thus, the solution is no longer simple dietary advice, but is psychological.

Recognising anorexia and bulimia

Anorexia is a mental health problem in which the affected person considers him/herself overweight while being excessively thin. It can be represented as a somatic sign of depression.

Some people with anorexia manage to lose weight by a combination of dieting and depurative behaviours such as induced vomiting or the use of laxatives and diuretics.

Anorexics behave differently when it comes to food, namely:

  • an excessive focus on healthy eating
  • looking for excuses not to eat
  • calluses on the joints due to the induction of vomiting
  • getting up during meals to go to the toilet

As a result, physical symptoms arise over time such as brittle hair and nails, growth of fine body hair, low blood pressure or lethargy.

On the other hand, bulimia does not only involve the component of fear of gaining weight, but also a feeling of lack of self-control. Bulimia is often linked to other psychological problems. This is common in people with:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • personality disorder
  • low self-esteem
  • deficiency or excess of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters

Like an anorexic, a bulimic becomes increasingly preoccupied with his or her weight. They eat too much food in a short period of time. Often, after eating, they feel guilty. This illness can also be linked to concomitant psychological and physical factors such as depression or anxiety.

A predominantly female issue

These somatic effects tend to show up around the age of 12. A common feature of both is the clear predominance of girls, 99% compared to 1% of boys. At puberty, the female body undergoes more changes than the male body. Young girls begin to be sensitive to the looks of those around them – even if it means that if they are underweight, they will be rejected or denigrated.

To escape this unconscious anxiety, they either resort to compulsive snacking and binge eating to the point of illness or to excessive anorexic dieting. The latter often leads to an obsession with being thinner and thinner. In reality, anorexics are constantly hungry, but rejoice at being able to control their hunger.

But this higher incidence in adolescents does not mean that adults are not affected. On the contrary, stress at work or in a relationship can lead to loss of appetite or compulsive eating.

How to treat anorexia and bulimia?

Anorexia and/or bulimia puts the patient in a state of emotional distress which usually results in depression. They see that their eating habit is doomed to failure, as they feel fatter and fatter – which quickly leads to a feeling of low self-esteem. Over time, a vicious circle between the depression and the eating disorder will intensify.

At this stage, family or friend support will no longer be enough to help the patient to get out of these psychopathological disorders. This is what behavioural therapy is all about. A consultation with a doctor or psychotherapist will make the patient aware that it is not a question of an eating disorder, but of psychological suffering driven by its symptoms.

Family therapy can also be an excellent way of putting each family member in their place and looking at the dysfunction of the family system. However, the therapeutic treatment must be consented to by the individual concerned. The consequences of untreated mental health problems in adolescents can carry over into adulthood and limit their chances of leading a fulfilling life in later life. Therefore prevention and early detection are essential

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