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Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa: An Overview

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Around eight million Americans have an eating disorder. Girls and women are much more likely to have an eating disorder compared with boys and men. Of the eight million, only one million are male.

People who have an eating disorder were more likely to have been overweight as children or have a negative self-image. High academic achievers are prone to eating disorders, possibly due to strict expectations of themselves.

Anorexia Nervosa

This is an eating disorder where the affected person is very worried about gaining weight, even when they are already underweight or a healthy weight. They may do intensive exercising and diet too much. Dieting can become extreme as they severely reduce their intake of food or stop eating altogether.

Symptoms include losing weight, eating progressively less, skipping meals, worrying about being overweight, and refusing to eat in front of other people, Leaving the table immediately after a meal may be a sign that the person is inducing vomiting.

Other symptoms may be obsessively exercising even when ill or in bad weather, using diet pills or laxatives, or repeatedly checking him or herself in a mirror or on weighing scales. There may be a loss of interest in sex, cessation of menstrual periods or loss of ability to have an erection.

A person with anorexia nervosa may experience dizziness, inability to concentrate or focus, thinning pubic hair, or fine hair on the skin. They may develop abdominal pain, constipation, or extreme tiredness. They may feel cold, wearing lots of clothes or baggy clothes. This could be to cover up how thin they are or to keep warm, or both. Loss of body fat makes you more susceptible to cold.

Bulimia Nervosa

This is an eating disorder characterized by the urge to binge-eat. It is more common than anorexia nervosa, affecting four out of every 100 women. Affected people eat large quantities of highly fattening and "junk" foods such as cake and chocolate, and then force themselves to vomit it up because they are concerned about their weight.

Symptoms include buying lots of food and eating it all at once, eating "junk" foods in secret, eating other people’s food, stealing from shops to accommodate the binge eating habit. They may vomit after eating, or take laxatives. They may experience guilt, tiredness, failure to lose weight even when trying, irregular periods, or altered body image.

Treatment should be sought for these extremely serious physical and mental disorders. Only one in ten sufferers gets treatment. Up to 20 percent of anorexia sufferers will die after 20 years so it is important to seek help that will aid recovery.

Information and Support

You can obtain help and support for yourself or your loved one, at:

National Eating Disorders Association
165 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036

Toll-free Information and Referral Helpline: 1-800-931-2237 (9am-5pm EST).
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.edap.org


• Eating Disorders, The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Web. 25 September 2011. http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfoforall/problems/eatingdisorders/eatingdisorders.aspx

• Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms, NHS Choices. Web. 25 September 2011. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anorexia-nervosa/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

• Anorexia Nervosa, PubMed Health. Web. 25 September 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001401

• Eating Disorder Statistics, South Carolina Department of Mental Health. Web. 25 September 2011.

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.

She is a mother of five who practised drug-free home birth, delayed cord clamping, full term breast feeding, co-sleeping, home schooling and flexi schooling and is an advocate of raising children on organic food.

Reviewed September 27, 2011
by Michele Blackberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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