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The tragic truth about anorexia nervosa and bulimia

Updated on August 19, 2012


If you’re female, odds are you are dissatisfied with your appearance. In fact, 80% of American women report dissatisfaction with their appearance (Smolak, 1996). Studies have also shown that looks do give people major life advantages. Attractive people are more likely to be acquitted of a crime, are more popular, and get a job faster. This is likely driven by the common cross-cultural belief that what is beautiful, is also good.

Given this information, it isn’t surprising that there 5-10% of girls and women are suffering from some form of eating disorder (Crowther et. al., 1995). This statistic is likely dramatically understated, because shame often drives patients to keep confidentiality, even from their doctors.

An even more astounding statistic; females 15-24 years of age that suffer from anorexia nervosa are 12 times more likely to die from the disease than ANY OTHER CAUSE OF DEATH!

Eating Disorder Resources

Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders
Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders

The #1 Amazon rated book on eating disorders. Also a patient looking back on her teenage years where she struggled with an eating disorder.

Appetites: Why Women Want
Appetites: Why Women Want

A book by Caroline Knapp from the eyes of an ED patient. May help patients feel "less alone" with the disease.


Disease Descriptions (Source: National Eating Disorders Association)

Anorexia Nervosa: patients starve themselves. Weight loss is extreme.


  • Distressed about weight gain, anxiety with respect to body weight and shape
  • Feeling fat despite dramatic weight loss
  • Refuses to maintain body weight above minimal Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI less than 18.5 is a strong indicator of the disease. Body mass index helps doctors determine if patient is a healthy weight based on frame size, gender and weight.
  • Failure to menstruate

Bulimia patients cycle between binge eating followed by purging. Bulimics may consume a substantial amount of food, but they generally will then purge what they have consumed through vomiting, laxative overdose or overexercising.


  • Repeated binge and purge cycle
  • Frequent diets
  • Extreme Concern with body weight and shape

While Anorexia and Bulimia are the most well-known disorders, there are a variety of other eating disorders including compulsive overeating disorder.

Editorial Illustration: A body to die for
Editorial Illustration: A body to die for | Source

Take Action

If you think that someone you know has an eating disorder, take action. Failure to do so could lead organ failure or even death! It is important to talk to your friend and encourage them to seek action. Further information can be found on the National Eating Disorders Association website.

Being too skinny, not so pretty:

Those that are underweight for long periods of time may experience bruising, dental decay (caused by the body’s need to use the calcium in critical areas), kidney, heart and liver damage, loss of hair and yellowing of skin.

Women may experience a condition called lango, where fine hair is grown over the body.

Men may begin experiencing testicular dysfunction.


Treatment often involves intensive, long-term psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and for some even a change in career. Industries like fashion, dance, music and drama can place intense pressures on the patient leading to an even more severe problem. Group therapy, nutritional programs, medication and even inpatient care may be recommended for the patient. The best recoveries are seen when the patient is in a supportive environment where others can help monitor your condition.

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Smolak, L. (1996). National Eating Disorders Association/Next Door Neighbors Puppet Guide Book.

Crowther, J.H., Wolf, E.M., & Sherwood, N. (1992). Epidemiology of bulimia nervosa. In M. Crowther, D.L. Tennenbaum. S.E. Hobfoll, & M.A.P. Stephens (Eds.). The Etiology of Bulimia Nervosa: The Individual and Familial Context (pp. 1-26) Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis.


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