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Eating disorders

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Updated: 1/14/2003 11:29 am
Eating disorders primarily affect young women between the ages of 12 and 25, mostly from middle- or upper-income families and rarely are found in developing countries. The two most common disorders are anorexia nervosa (a-nuh-RECK-see-uh nur-VO-suh) and bulimia (bul-LEE-me-uh). These disorders are characterized by a pathological fear of weight gain, in order to have the acceptance of others. This can lead to faulty eating patterns, severe weight loss, and even illness and death. Anorexia nervosa is self-imposed starvation, usually accompanied by over-exercising to burn up calories. Bulimia usually includes behavior known as 'binging (BINJ-ing) and purging (PURJ-ing),' in which the individual consumes an enormous amount of food, often very high-calorie, then self-induces vomiting. In addition, bulimics (buh-LEE-mix) may use laxatives and diuretics (dye-you-REH-tics) in the misguided belief that these will rid the body of food. Most episodes take place in secret and don't lead to significant weight loss, but there are many medical consequences. Repeated exposure of the teeth, throat, and esophagus (eh-SOF-uh-guss) to stomach acid from continual vomiting can be extremely harmful, and excessive use of laxatives and diuretics can lead to kidney malfunctions. These behaviors can also cause irregular heart rhythms, as well as potential choking, and can lead to death. Parents can help by being aware of perfectionism, especially in regard to a child's weight or physical appearance. They can also foster good diet and exercise habits. Any child with an eating disorder must receive medical attention, as well as counseling by a clergyperson or mental-health professional.

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