Understanding the reason for eating disorders and why they can occur is important in order to intervene in the lives of sufferers. The first step in identifying the problem is to understand more about the different types of eating disorders and some of the symptoms.
Bulimia nervosa is a term used to describe an eating disorder. The person suffering from Bulimia Nervosa often overeats and then afterwards purges the food eaten. The disease is considered a psychological traumatic disorder due to the reasons for indulging in such behavior. The induced vomiting of food is under the attempt to control ones weight and the amount of food eaten. Some of the characteristics of Bulimia Nervosa are fasting, using laxatives or water pills to cause the body to release water in order to reduce weight gain. Each of these type of methods are an attempt to control weight in addition to exercising frequently and strenuously. These individuals usually young women are nearly always hungry and so eat extreme amounts of food when bingeing. However it is the physical body and organs that are starving for nutrition that cause these reactions (NIMH.gov, 2011). Oftentimes the type of person that is susceptible to bulimia is someone that is in sports or has a career that requires a certain physical makeup such as an actor, model or high profile position. The type of person that may have bulimia is usually a person that has a career where physical appearance is important such as a dancer, gymnast, athlete such as a tennis player or runner. They have the mentality that things would be better if they were less heavy or weighed less.
This person also experiences great amounts of stress due to feelings of inferiority, failing to perform to their own expectations, or due to low self-esteem or confidence levels.
Those that face bulimia are overachievers who are well respected in the workplace or school and feel they cannot let others down. Often they are focused on pleasing others and need a great deal of attention to feel good about themselves. Many sufferers of bulimia look quite normal and when prompted will deny that anything is wrong in their life or with their eating habits. When they do eat, the types of foods eaten are high in fat content due to their bodies craving carbohydrates due to the low energy levels from eating low nutrient foods. After eating two-three or more times the normal amount of high fat foods such as sweets, they will spend long periods of time in the bathroom purging the foods by induced vomiting. Some bulimics can go through this binge eating and purging of food cycle multiple times a day.
Though there are no definitive causes other than a person being discontent with themselves and dissatisfied with their physical appearance. Most times they suffer from depression and are obsessed with reaching what is termed the perfect size or weight. The mood of those with this condition is often depressed, highly stressful or include periods of high anxiety. Some of the medical conditions that could occur as a result of bulimia include exposed tooth enamel due to the gastric substances constantly being released through purging. Over a period of time this can cause serious tooth decay (NIMH.gov, 2011). The throat may suffer from burns from too much acid being deposited repeatedly in the esophagus. Many times the throat may become sensitive or sore and develop scarring. Other medical problems associated with bulimia include, dehydration due to using diuretics or laxatives to assist the removal of water or wastes. Due to the extreme activity of gastric acids in the stomach, ulcers may develop in the lining, the worn down esophagus can cause an ulcer to rupture if untreated. The muscles of the bowels can be affected to the point of malfunction with continuous use or through the use of laxatives. The ability for the bowels to function normally can be impaired. Other medical issues could be heart arrhythmia or irregularity of the heart's beating which could cause a heart attack (NIMH.gov, 2011). Other factors could be decreased sexual function or lowered libido. In extreme cases, suicidal tendencies could arise when a victim is unable to control their urges and do not get the help they need.
Symptoms of bulimia include people that are always dieting and are able to maintain a very limited amount of caloric intake over a long period of time. Someone who is prone to fasting. Someone who overeats and is out of control with their eating. Eating everything in sight or consumes many comfort type foods such as ice cream and sweets. A person who is always exercising and does not appear to ever feel they have worked out enough. If someone runs to the restroom frequently after eating a heavy meal repeatedly. Someone who appears overly concerned about their weight or very self-conscious about their weight. A person that seems to vomit or get sick often. For young girls, if they have irregular menstrual cycles (NIMH.gov, 2011). Someone who consistently purchases laxatives or diuretic water pills. Frequent remarks or complaints about constipation or hunger.
Bulimia victims need a great deal of support and love from friends and family. There are treatments for the condition but it is important that a medical practitioner get involved as early as possible. With the right therapy they can become healthy well rounded confident individuals. One of the first reactions when they are confronted may be anger or denial.
They are research studies examining many different areas to identify causes of eating disorders. Some of the studies are in genetics, biology, behavior science, and psychology to name a few. The first is an experimental study that involves neurology and imaging of the brain has traced certain brain patterns of women that had bulimia in comparison to women that did not. The equipment used was a functional magnet imaging device. This device was able to monitor the response to a task that required self-control such as overcoming an impulsive action (Marsh, Steinglass, Gerber, Graziano O'Leary, Wang, Murphy, Walsh and Peterson, 2009). The women that suffered from bulimia were less inhibited by impulsivity while the women that did not have this type of control exhibited the expected response (Marsh, Steinglass, Gerber, Graziano O'Leary, Wang, Murphy, Walsh and Peterson, 2009).
There are interruptions within the neural pathways that affect voluntary self-regulating processes within the brain that can factor into bulimia nervosa causing a release of feeding response from regulatory control (Marsh, Steinglass, Gerber, Graziano O'Leary, Wang, Murphy, Walsh and Peterson, 2009).
The objective of this functional action in the neural circuit is to circumvent self-regulated control of women that have bulimia nervosa. The basic format of the study was to align magnetic resonance imaging by comparing level dependent responses in patients that have bulimia with those that do not to monitor performance of Simon Spatial Incompatible task (Marsh, Steinglass, Gerber, Graziano O'Leary, Wang, Murphy, Walsh and Peterson, 2009).
The location was the University Research institute. Those that participated include self selected 40 women in total. Half that had symptoms of bulimia and half that were healthy control subjects. The measurement was to review the linear modeling of the Simon Spatial task and the activations that came out of other groups to compare patterns of brain activity.
Results of Experimental Study
The results was that the patients with bulimia would be more impulsive and were prone to make errors on the tasks that the healthy control subjects did not make errs on. For example the patients did not respond to frontostraitial circuits in the same manner as healthy subjects. In fact the healthy subjects activated the anterior cortex for correct responses while the stratial was activated with err responses that is expected. This automatic response was predicted due to there being no concomitant anterior activity. In conclusion the self-regulated process does not work and is impaired in bulimic patients, this is considered the result of the inability to engage the frontalstratial circuits in the correct manner (Marsh, Steinglass, Gerber, Graziano O'Leary, Wang, Murphy, Walsh and Peterson, 2009).
Such findings serve to improve an understanding of the neural makeup of patients with bulimia that are displayed as functioning disorders in the neural pathway that affects normal self-regulated control. Expected to factor into binge eating.
Cross Sectional Study
Another area being studied is Psychotherapy with young teens who received Maudsley treatment which includes the family in monitoring the actions of the patient to assist with their eating habits. These cross sectional studies were to identify parents, family, and other relationship where actions might contribute to the eating disorder. These uncover pressures from those surrounding the patient that were inappropriate which might trigger bulimic response. Some of the results of such studies showed that the Maudsley program worked better and resulted in more bulimia recoveries than did other forms of support through psychotherapy alone (LeGrange, Crosby, Rathouz and Leventhal, 2007).