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Anorexia And Bulimia Nervosa Essay, Research Paper

Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

“When she was fourteen, a modeling agency said that her face was too fat.

It was a death sentence.” (Toronto Sun, 1994)

Sheena Carpenter died in November 1993. She was found on the kitchen

floor of her apartment by her mother. She was twenty-two years old. . . and

weighed only fifty pounds. Sheena was just one of the alarming numbers of young

women who become obsessed with the shape and size of their bodies, and suffer

harmful, or in this case, fatal effects from eating disorders. At any given time,

almost one out of every two women is on some sort of a diet, and this statistic

is apparently reflected the revenues of the diet industry, currently a $33

billion a year industry. It should be noted that this estimate does not include

profits generated by exercise or workout programs, gyms, health clubs, or

cosmetic surgery.

A recent national survey in the US reveled that the majority of women,

when asked what would make them happiest, choose thinness over all other choices,

even such thing as job promotion, romance, prestige and power. In fact, more

women feared becoming fat, then feared dying. These statistics revel an alarming

social problem that is reaching epic proportions.

Although the topic of eating disorders has gained a larger audience

within the last decade, the number of cases of eating disorders continues to

rise at a resounding rate. Today many scientists are looking into possible

causes for the onset of an eating disorder. The most prevalent and influencing

factor is the media and society’s view. They act as a controlling presence for

susceptible individuals. ? The socioculture pressure on today’s adolescent and

young women to be thin and attractive also play an important role in the

development of eating disorders. Thinness in today’s society is associated with

self-control, attractiveness, intelligence, happiness , wealth and success. The

media, fashion, and the diet industry exploit this myth by bombarding us with

products and services designed to push us towards losing weight. As a result, it

is not surprising to find that adolescents who are undergoing uncontrollable

body changes and the onset of new emotional and sexual drives seek dieting in

order to enhance their sense of self-control and acceptance by others.?

Recently it has been discovered that a possible cause for eating

disorders is due to an defective hormone. That hormone serotonin, said to

activate in response to food, is still a mystery and even though it has some

value as a blood clotting factor, but its functions have yet to be totally

understood. At the current speed of progress however, it has been said that we

should expect definite information as to the cause of an eating disorder in

about a decade. Following soon after will be a better form of treatment to help

all who have become effected by this dreadful disorder.

Both Anorexia and Bulimia have effects and differences on the

body that causes the body to take drastic measures to sustain the life of the

individual. (for the sake of brevity and to avoid redundancy the abbreviation ED

will be used in pace of eating disorder)

The lack of any digested food to become a useful ingredient to the body

has detrimental effects to the body as a whole. With each disorder, Anorexia and

Bulimia Nervosa, you will see how each contributes to this problem.

A variety of changes in thought and perception accompany Anorexia

Nervosa. Notable behavioral changes, however, center around food. The

individual with anorexia often divides her foods into ?good? and ?bad?

categories. Good foods are hypocaloric which includes fruits and vegetables,

while bad foods are hypercaloric, such as carbohydrates and sweets. The

hypocaloric foods are eaten while hypercaloric foods are avoided. Mealtimes are

usually skipped or small amounts of foods may be eaten, leading to low daily

calorie intake levels. To an anorexic, every act of eating may be governed by

rules such as cutting the food into small pieces, taking hours to eat, or

hoarding food. This person also becomes obsessed with exercise in yet another

attempt to lose weight. Physically, the disorder causes the body to slowly

deteriorate. Obvious signs to look for are excessive weight loss in a short

period of time and continuing dieting of a bone thin person. The body, in its

amazing capabilities, begins to protect itself by shutting down non-life

sustaining processes. The heart rate and blood pressure slow, very fine hairs

called lanugo grow on the body to prevent loss of body heat, and the skin

becomes dry and yellow. The master gland, the thyroid, slows, which in turn

slows development. Amenorrhea begins, stopping the menstrual cycle in women. Due

to nutrient restriction and electrolyte imbalance, the heart and kidneys become

severely damaged and the brain may even shrink causing drastic personality


Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by frequent binge eating, which is

followed by some form of compensative behavior, whether it be self-induced

vomiting, laxatives, or compulsive exercise. Unlike anorexics who are usually in

a state of self denial, bulimics are fully aware of their illness and

consciously try to hide it from others. This deception allows the bulimic to

carry on for many years without anyone ever knowing. However, the hunger

sensation is overwhelmingly strong and the individual gives in, devouring large

amounts of food each time. Then guilt and compensatory behaviors follow, such

as vomiting or laxative use. Because bulimics only lose the food they’ve just

eaten, they do not drastically lose weight, but fluctuate instead. The body

still tries to preserve life and discontinues non-life sustaining processes as

well. Many experience signs common to an anorexic such as obsessive exercise,

which could led to heavy involvement in sports. Loss of menstrual periods, and

feeling fat are also common signs of bulimia. Bulimics still eat but purging

starves their bodies of much needed nutrients. This action can lead to heart and

kidney damage due to lack of potassium. Purging can also cause the stomach wall

and esophagus to rupture, as well as tooth decay due to the acidity of the


ED’s have their similarities and differences as can be shown, but inside

the body the both cause virtually the same chemical responses.

Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa are two disorders unlike any other disorder,

sickness, or disease. The eating disorders such as these two strike in a

vulnerable division in the body. The body is sustained by the food we eat and

the liquids we drink, take those away or out of their homeostatic state and the

body suffers greatly. Although the body is amazing in its capabilities to deal

with life functions and changes within, without the proper nutrients, the body

is unable to do its job. This is why the disorder is so terrible. The body is

unable and incapable without this food to repair itself, provide the means for

organs to work, or to sustain life processes. With the limitation of food intake,

mineral levels fall towards dangerous levels. As a result vitamins don not work

and then food can’t be digested and a whole cascade of dangerous effects follow.

Minerals are used in the body not a source of food but rather as a aid

to other body nutrients. They increase the ability of a nutrient to function and

strengthen its effectiveness.

With the decrease in food and energy from food, a fluid electrolyte

disorder called hyponatremia develops where there is not enough sodium in the

body. Made worse by laxatives (diuretics) and excessive sweating through the

compulsive exercise, low sodium levels trigger the adrenal cortex to release

aldosterone, targeting the kidney tubules. When stimulated, the kidneys raise

the absorption rate of Na+ in the proximal convoluted tubules and the loops of

Henle. It is important to understand that while the sodium content of the body

may change, its concentration in the extracellular fluid remains stabile because

of adjustments in water volume. Hyponatremia, when not corrected, causes a

neurologic dysfunction due to brain swelling, systemic edemia, decreased water

loss which leads to decreased blood pressure and volume, as well as cardiac

arrhythmia and circulatory shock. Physical signs of this electrolyte disorder

are headaches, muscle cramps, thirst, lethargy, and weakness. Relating very

closely to sodium’s role in the body is that of potassium.

“Potassium, the chief intracellular cation, is required for normal

neuromuscular functioning, as well as for several essential metabolic activities,

including protein synthesis.” Although potassium can be toxic at high levels,

eating disorders cause the level of potassium to fall dramatically lower than

normal causing the same drastic effects. A deficit of potassium can cause

hyperpolarization and nonresponsiveness of the neurons controlling our body, a

condition called hypokalemia. The heart, being the most sensitive to K+, may

develop cardiac arrhythmia and possible arrest also. Muscular weaknesses,

alkalosis of the blood, and hypovenilation may accompany low levels of potassium.

The effects of hyponatremia and hypokalemia may not be prevalent at the

onset of an eating disorder and may not even show up for quite some time due to

the low levels of other chemicals that hinder, compensate, or account for the

difference. For example, not enough magnesium (hypomagnesemia) can cause tremors

and increase neuromuscular excitability. A lack of phosphorus causes a condition

known as rickets, when the epiphyseal plates in young growing children continue

to widen and become enlarged. Even a lack in trace minerals like Iron and Iodine

can cause an inability to maintain body temperature and hypothyroidism,


Vitamins are essential for the life-sustaining process in the body to be

carried out. Vitamins in the body act as a coenzyme. They act in junction with

other specific enzymes allowing them to function. Without the assistance of

vitamins, all of the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins would not be able to be

broken down and digested and used for energy.

Most vitamins are not made in the body and therefore most come from our

diet, and since no one food contains all of the essential vitamins need for the

body, a balanced diet is necessary. The deficiency of vitamins in the body is

primarily what causes the effects that are visible in an ED patient. Vitamin A

deficiencies cause night blindness (controls pigmentation of rods and cones) and

the drying of the epidermis of the skin. Shown in the dry eyes and chapped lips,

coarse hair, and the drying eye conjunctiva and yellowing skin. Lack of vitamin

D causes problems in the skeleton leading to brittleness and easy breakage of

bones. Vitamin K that adds to blood coagulation will cause an increase of

clotting time and bruising. Those are to name the effects of low fat-soluble

vitamin. The water-soluble vitamins effect the body in yet another way. Vitamin

C, labels by many as the ?health vitamin?, is an antioxidant, meaning that it is

used to repair the body of damage from free oxygen radicals. Low levels

therefore, let damaged tissue to go unrepaired. Other common problems are an

inability to form the intercellular ?cement?, joint pains, bone growth problems,

increased susceptibility to infection, and further weight loss.

As the vitamin level dwindles, the body becomes less able to properly

digest food into energy. Carbohydrate, lipids, and proteins that due come into

the body, can’t be broken down properly. The body continually needs energy for

basel and regular metabolic rates. When the food intake no longer provides that

necessity, the body begins to break down its own resources of stored energy.

First to be broken down, is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates consist of

sugars and is the easiest obtainable and best used energy source. The complex

and simple sugars are broken down directly into glucose. Carbohydrates are

burned at a fast rate and since the body doesn’t store a lot of it the body next

turns upon the lipid or fat reserves.

A large portion of energy is storied in fat however it takes more energy

to turn it to a useful substance. As the body breaks down itself, the loss of

insulating fat causes loss of body heat and an increased metabolic rate. As

stored fats become depleted and the body has to due work to keep itself together,

next the proteins become targeted.

Most proteins are located and stored in muscle. The break down of

proteins is really the break down of muscle. Protein digestion is the worst form

of energy since it takes a lot of energy to get small amounts of energy.

As shown, one thing that may seam minor and minuet can turn into a

dangerous situation. Experimentation has proven that the best form of treatment

includes the use of anti-depressant drugs. In situation where the patient has

become critical the individual is often hospitalized and monitored around the

clock with close observation on slow recovery of body chemical. The damages to

the body can usually be restored in a relatively short time as compared to the

emotional damage that goes on for years. Thankfully most of the physical

problems with an eating disorder are caused by malnutrition and go back to

normal when normal body weight is restored.

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