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Updated 02 July 2013

Anorexia: obsession that could kill

Anorexia generally starts in the middle teenage years, and by the age of 15, can affect as many as one girl in every 150, says Health24's CyberShrink.

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Anorexia generally starts in the middle teenage years, and by the age of 15, can affect as many as one girl in every 150, says psychiatrist and Health24's CyberShrink, Prof Michael Simpson. Often they've been mildly overweight, and perhaps teased about this. Although it is rare, anorexia can occur in boys too.

It usually starts with normal dieting, but for the anorexic, dieting becomes a central aspect of life, and continues until the girl is far below the normal weight for her age and height. There is evidence that the anorexic's perception of her size and shape becomes distorted, so while to others she looks gruesomely skeletal, she may still complain of looking and feeling "fat", says Simpson.

Signs that a child may be anorexic, include:

  • She prefers baggy and enveloping clothes that disguise how thin she is.
  • She may take great interest in buying food, collecting recipes, and cooking for others.
  • She may make a great show of eating salads and anything else that will contribute very little towards gaining weight.
  • A layer of fine downy hair may start growing all over her body.
  • She stops menstruating.
  • She may exercise intensively.
  • She may take slimming medicines and laxatives to drive her weight down.

Bulimia: a cycle of overeating

The prevalence of bulimia among teenage girls and young women is 1% to 3%, and the rate of occurrence in men is approximately one tenth that seen in women. According to Prof Simpson, bulimia may arise on its own or develop in someone already anorexic.

In addition to behaviours typical of anorexia, bulimics have episodes of "binge eating", when they consume huge amounts of fattening foods, then privately vomit it all up, feeling deeply guilty. These chaotic eating patterns may cause fluctuating weight, and they may maintain an average closer to the norm, and thus be less noticeable.

Signs that a person may be bulimic, include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, which may involve eating in a discrete period of time (e.g. within any two-hour period) an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances.
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode.
  • She may exercise intensively.
  • She may take slimming medicines and laxatives to drive her weight down.

If you are worried that your child could be anorexic or bulimic, check his/her behaviour against these signs and symptoms. If you can identify a pattern of behaviour that fits in with the signs and symptoms, your child needs help. Both anorexia and bulimia can have a serious negative impact on health and may cause severe organ damage.

- (Health24)

 
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