Bulimia nervosa is a cyclical and recurring pattern of binge eating (uncontrolled bursts of overeating) followed by guilt, self-recrimination and overcompensatory behavior such as crash dieting, overexercising and purging to compensate for the excessive caloric intake.
Bulimics often have “binge food,” which is the food they typically consume during binges. Some describe their binge episodes as a physical high they feel, numbing out, going into auto-pilot, losing all control, immediate comfort, etc. The reasoning or triggers behind a binge may serve different purposes for different people. This binge episode leads the individual to feel guilt, shame, embarrassment, and complete failure. Bulimics try to regain control of themselves and the situation by purging the food (either by self-induced vomiting or using a laxative), making up for their mistake. This leads to feeling famished and empty again, and therefore, another uncontrollable binge, followed by feeling powerless, and the vicious binge/purge cycle continues. Bulimics have extreme eating and exercising habits, instead of demonstrating moderation. This compulsive behavior is often echoed in similar destructive behavior such as sexual promiscuity, pathological lying, and shoplifting. Some bulimics not only struggle with the eating disorder, but these other harmful behaviors as well.
The appearance of bulimia nervosa often occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood. 90 Percent of bulimics are women. Roughly 70 percent of individuals who develop bulimia nervosa eventually recover.
Compulsive exercising is a type of bulimia nervosa, where those afflicted exercise excessively in order to purge excess calories. One that struggles with this disorder takes part of vigorous physical activity to the point that it is unhealthy and unsafe. It is often referred to as obligatory exercise or anorexia athletic. The individual usually feels compelled to exercise and has problems with anxiety and guilt until exercising. Someone that has compulsive exercising disorder will still force themselves to work out even when sick or injured. He or she will often calculate how much they have eaten and exercise on the amount of calories they have eaten and usually have low energy because of all the calories they have burned. People who struggle with this disorder usually do it to have more control in their life. Praise is often given to the individual about how in shape he/she may look which gives that person more of a drive to continue to work out. Females most commonly have compulsive exercising disorder and measure their self worth through their performance. They often take out their emotions like anger, depression, or frustration when exercising by pushing their bodies to the limit.
Binge eating (also known as Obsessive Compulsive Overeating [OCO]) is one of the most common mental disorders and is linked with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It involves the consumption of very large amounts of food in a short period of time. About 2 percent of all adults in the United States struggle with binge eating. People at any age can develop this particular disorder, but it is seen most in young adults. Clinical studies have continued to find that obese binge eaters have much higher levels of depression than other obese individuals that do not have a binge eating disorder. The individual has feelings of disgust and guilt that leads to depression.
People that struggle with binge eating are likely to have alcohol problems and engage in impulsive behavior, such as not thinking before acting out. They do not feel that they can control themselves, are typically not close with their community, and have difficulty discussing their problems and feelings. They also have more health problems, a hard time sleeping at night, joint pain, muscle pains, menstrual problems, and headaches. Affected people often have suicidal thoughts, struggle digesting their food, and are stressed. People that have a binge eating disorder are usually ashamed and become very good at hiding the fact that they have it. They become so good at hiding that most people around them, including close friends and family members, do not even know about their disorder.
Although it is not diagnosed very often, several factors can make it more difficult to diagnose than other eating disorders. Because COE is an eating disorder which is less commonly taught in school or talked about, a large amount of people who have the disorder just blame their weight on their binges and don’t consider that there might be a psychological reason behind their binge eating, or are not even aware that the disorder exists altogether. One way to determine if a person has COE is by looking at their eating patterns. It is not uncommon in some that their food habits can be completely random: healthy foods a few days, attempted dieting or even crash dieting, which are followed by a relapse into binge eating. A very common misconception is that people who have COE do not know healthy eating habits or simply “don’t know better,” however, what makes this specifically an eating disorder is the addiction of eating large amounts of food and repeated relapsing in attempts to changing to healthy eating habits.
Orthorexia nervosa is a recently discovered disease previously thought to be Anorexia. This type of disorder is an obsession with eating only healthy types of foods. This disorder derives from the drive to become pure, so that a sufferer begins to become obsessed with everything that he or she is consuming. Someone who struggles with orthorexia nervosa will do things like planning out their meals for the next day. This means that they will have a strict planned schedule of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thinness often results due to the restricted types and amounts of food eaten, but is a side effect rather than an intended result. People who have orthorexia nervosa are often critical of what others eat, and usually isolate themselves from surroundings.
Family and friends are very influential when it comes to eating disorders. Consistently being called “fat”, “fatty”, or even “fatty mcfatty” can significantly lower a person’s self esteem and cause them to turn to anorexia and/or bulimia. The media may be a significant influence on eating disorders through its impact on values, norms, and image standards accepted by modern society. The media sends a message that “thin is beautiful” in their choice of fashion models, which many young girls want to emulate. Both society’s exposure to media and eating disorders have grown immensely over the past decade. Researchers and clinicians are concerned about the relationship between these two phenomena and finding ways to reduce the negative influence thin-ideal media has on women’s body perception and susceptibility to eating disorders. The dieting industry makes billions of dollars each year by consumers continually buying products in an effort to be the ideal weight. Hollywood displays an unrealistic standard of beauty that makes the public feel incredibly inadequate and dissatisfied and forces people to strive for an unattainable appearance. This takes an enormous toll on one’s self-esteem and can easily lead to dieting behaviors, disordered eating, body shame, and ultimately an eating disorder. The surrounding culture in which an adolescent is raised greatly affects how they feel they are supposed to look, potentially contributing to an eating disorder.
Research from a family systems perspective indicates that eating disorders stem from both the adolescent’s difficulty in separating from over-controlling parents, and disturbed patterns of communication. When parents are critical and unaffectionate, their children are more prone to becoming self-destructive and self-critical, and have difficulty developing the skills to engage in self-care giving behaviors. Such developmental failures in early relationships with others, particularly maternal empathy, impairs the development of an internal sense of self and leads to an over-dependence on the environment. When coping strategies have not been developed in the family system, food and drugs serve as a substitute.
Eating disorders should also be understood in the context of experienced trauma, with many eating problems beginning as survival strategies rather than vanity or obsession with appearance. According to sociologist Becky Thompson, eating disorders stemming from women of varying socio-economic status, sexual orientation and race, and finds that eating disorders and a disconnected relationship with one’s body is commonly a response to environmental stresses, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, racism, and poverty. This reality is further detrimental for women of color and other minority women, since they are forced to live in a culture that embraces a narrowly defined conception of beauty.