ESL 91
SPRING, 2002


WanFen Li
ESL 91
Spring, 2002

Project Topic: Research common eating disorders. Find information on Anorexia Nervosa and on Bulimia. What seems to cause these eating disorders? Who is most likely to develop these eating disorders? Compare and contrast the symptoms, consequences, and prognosis for people suffering from each of these eating disorders. How do doctors treat people suffering from eating disorders? Are these treatments usually successful?

It is very common for people, especially women to be unhappy about their overweight and fat shape. Therefore, many people are trying to keep fit. Food becomes a force to control people’ s thoughts, feelings and actions. Unfortunately, some of them develop eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two common eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is an obsessive desire to lose weight and a distorted body image. Though sufferers are painfully thin, they see themselves as fat and starve themselves to prevent weight gain. Bulimia nervosa is an illness where people overeating and they feel guilty, then they make themselves purge or vomit to prevent weight gain. People might harm themselves when these conditions keep going.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa usually occurs in the teenage girls, but boys suffer from it too. According to the mental health information “Anorexia & Bulimia”, it shows 90-95% of people suffering anorexia are females. They are obsessed with being thin and have an intense fear of gaining weight. As a result, eating is very distressing to them. They starve themselves, especially avoiding high calorie foods and exercise until they become very thin. They often have a very distorted perception of how they look and feel they need to continue to lose weight even they are really very thin. They would feel that their body shape directly affects their value. Anorexia nervosa becomes an increasing problem in young age people.

Causes of Anorexia Nervosa

Why do people cause anorexia nervosa? There are some different ideas about the causes and they have important involvement with this eating disorder. Social pressure is one of them. Basic on the social value, people believe that “slim” means “beautiful”, and “fat” equals “unattractive and undesirable”. We can get these views from the advertisements, slim women and movie stars on the television and the beautiful cover girls on the magazines. People see these slim people as the goals; they try to lose weight and reach what they see in the media.

Girls and boys may have pressure from their peers, especially the girls. For example, when most of the friends around them are slim, they might feel that they cannot join with the group. Sometimes other people might make fun of them, or give them the nickname “fatty”. Nobody wants the fat people in their group in the gym class. The peer pressures make them feel out side the peer group, so they control their eating too much and develop anorexia.

Psychological factors are other important reasons. There is another interesting condition. Some girls fall in love, and they believe “slim” equals “beautiful”. Therefore, they are very careful about their body shape. They diet to lose weight. They want to show their beautiful side to their boyfriends. Dieting can be a satisfying activity. When they measure their weight, and the scales tell them that they have lost a couple of pounds, they feel happy and successful. Especially in the girl peers, they feel satisfied that they have succeeded losing weight. Other peers might admire their success.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa usually occurs in the older age group, often women in their early to mid-twenties. Like anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia are also afraid of becoming fat, but they still eat large amounts of food. According to the World Health Organization, the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa includes: sufferers who have a persistent preoccupation with eating and an irresistible craving for food. After they eat so much food, they feel guilty and fear becoming fat. They use an inappropriate method to control their weight, which includes vomiting and excessive use of laxatives. Through these methods they try to spend the energy and food that they just got. No matter how much they eat, they can still keep their weight within the normal limits. These methods might make people very uncomfortable. Binge eating and vomiting become a vicious circle for people, and they cannot break out. Their chaotic eating starts to dominate their lives.

For example, a woman might eat a lot of high calorie foods such as cakes, ice creams, cheeses and chocolates in two hours or less. Afterward she will feel guilty and depressed, and then she makes herself vomit. Through this binge eating and vomiting, she may raise and lower her weight by up to 10 lbs within a short period of time. That would make her extremely uncomfortable because she may be sick from the process of binge eating and vomiting.

Causes of Bulimia Nervosa

Why do people suffer bulimia nervosa? The major reason is, like anorexia nervosa, people think slim is the definition of beauty, but they love to eat and enjoy eating. They are out of control with eating. Therefore, they use vomiting and laxatives to keep a normal weight. The other reason is depression. People have different ways to react to the bad things that happen to them in life.  Many sufferers with bulimia have depressive symptoms. They see binge eating as a way to cope with their unhappiness. For example, a person was very successful in the past, but now she is failing. She develops low self-esteem and depressions. She thinks she is useless and not worthy. For some people, an upsetting event such as the breaking up of relationship could result in bulimia. For example, divorce can lead a woman to suffer bulimia. Her husband leaves her, and then she feels that she has lost an important part of her life.


Food is an essential part of our life because we need nutrition for our body, especially during puberty. It is harmful for teenagers to diet. The teenage period is their growth time. When under eat, there is not enough nutrition and energy for their body’s issues to grow. The homeostasis of the body is unbalanced. The anabolism cannot work normally.

People who suffer anorexia nervosa have very low body weight that might result in many serious health problems. Girls might stop having menstrual periods. The skin would become very dry. They might also lose hair from their head. Students might find it hard to concentrate or think straight in the classes. The body is easy to feel cold. The bones become brittle and are easy to break. The muscles become weaker. Other complications include difficulty sleeping, constipation, and depression. Sufferers are often sick. Some problems will be better when people recover from anorexia. If severe anorexia cannot be treated, the sufferers might die. It is important to seek help as early as possible.

Bulimia nervosa also results in serious medical consequences. It brings some unhealthy problems to the body. Bulimia may be less noticeable than anorexia, as sufferers usually keep a constant weight. In fact, continually vomiting causes the stomach acid to dissolve parts of the body. This results in teeth decay, a puffy face, weak muscles, irregular heartbeats, and kidney damage.  Continual laxatives cause persistent stomach pain, swollen fingers, and damaging of bowel that might lead to long-term constipation. If a woman continues to binge and purge when she is pregnant, not only she will suffer the above problems. She puts the fetus at sick also. The fetus cannot have enough nutrition from the mother. That might abort the fetus or the baby may be born underweight.

Treating Eating Disorders

Eating disorder sufferers are not willing to let other people know their illness. It is difficult for them to eat in front of other people. People who suffer anorexia don’t like to eat; they eat a little. They don’t even like food. People always seem to lose appetite and feel they are fat. Those are the signs of anorexia. Bulimia sufferers are often make excuses to avoid eating with friends. If they eat with other people, they might disappear immediately or always go to the toilet after eating. This might be a sign of eating problems. Bulimia nervosa is stressful both mentally and physically. Eating disorders may be the problem if someone is anxious in social situations or excessively tired or run down, or if someone spends a long time in the bathroom and seems to have stomach upsets or be secretive about eating and shopping. These might be warning signs of an eating disorder. 

Recovering from anorexia nervosa is difficult. Many sufferers find it hard to admit that they have a problem with their eating. Before sufferers can get help from others, they must be honest to themselves. Nobody can help them to get better without their being able to accept that they have to at least maintain their current body weight.

The first step of treating eating disorders is to recognize them. When the sufferers recognize their illness, the sense of trying to get back to normal weight comes to them. They might know some information, which includes what is a normal weight for them? How many calories are needed each day? Many sufferers worry that they will become fat again. They would stop the treatment. The family and friends should watch them, and be sure that they eat enough food.

Sufferers might go to their doctor for advice. The family doctor might not be an expert in eating disorder, but they can tell some specialist services. Family doctors are also helpful in discussing sufferers’ physical needs and help them to adjust to a healthier way to eat. If patients suffer disorders for a long time, their digestive system will not cope with normal amounts of food. They might start to eat small amounts of easily digested food until their system catches up. The family doctor can tell them which food causes them least problems. Many professional therapists have said, “to help eating disorder sufferers we must understand their view of beauty.” Therapists will talk to the sufferers, understand what they think is beauty and change their mind.

In bulimia nervosa, the priority is to get back to a regular pattern of eating. Sufferers should maintain a steady amount of food in the 3 meals a day at the regular times and without vomiting. They should keep self-control. The other important part of treatment is psychotherapy; they should talk about things in the past or present that may bear on the eating problem and the personal difficulties. For some cases, the doctor would suggest that they try anti-depressants, but this cannot be helpful in the long-term.

If sufferers get in touch with a specialist, they may be offered counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These treatments can help sufferers to look at the reason that they developed bulimia. Sufferers work to deal with their deeper emotional needs. They would see that everything they do or every relationship is not affected by their body shape. CBT can help sufferers to learn how to adopt a healthier way of thinking and dealing with food. CBT also helps to remove some of the guilt they get from eating and help them guide their diet. These treatments need to take many weeks before sufferers improve. Most of the treatments of eating disorders are successful when people are treated early. 

My Response

Before I did the research, I knew only little bit about eating disorders, especially bulimia. I thought that the bulimia sufferers only eat, and they don’t care about their weight.  Now I realize they both eat and purge, and they also care their weight.  By searching the Internet and reading the information about eating disorders, I understand much more about what eating problems are. Psychological problems can cause eating disorders. As the symptoms of anorexia nervosa show, I know my high school friend had anorexia nervosa. She was very thin, not even over 85 pounds, but she always said she is fat and has to diet. She and I were in the same lunch period. When she got the food, she always gave her lunch to others. She didn’t eat or only ate a little. When people said she was not fat, she always didn’t agree. I think I can talk about the symptoms of anorexia nervosa to her and help her. 


Because of the social view, people fear becoming fat. Therefore, eating disorders have become a common problem in the society. They hurt people. Our health is affected by the daily diet, so balancing our diet is important. Having a good psychological well being is also important to our health. We should eat what our bodies’ need, and not treat our bodies badly. Body shape is not more important than our health.


All about anorexia nervosa online

All about bulimia nervosa online

Eating disorders- anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa online http://hcd2.bupa,couk/fact-sheets/mosby-factsheets/eating-disorders.html

Kasper, Loretta F. Interdisciplinary English 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.  

Mental health information “Anorexia & Bulimia” online

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