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Anorexia and Bulimia

Anorexia is an emotional illness. It alters the thinking of the victim in many ways.

Anorexics believe that being thin is the most important thing in their lives. It becomes the biggest part of their existence and they fear that without it they will be nothing.

“Approximately one percent of adolescent girls develop anorexia nervosa, a dangerous condition in which they can literally starve themselves to death. One in ten cases of anorexia nervosa leads to death from starvation, cardiac arrest, other medical complications, or suicide.” 4

Anorexics belief that in order to be loved they must be thin. However, they lose sight of what “thin” is. They will look in the mirror and see themselves as “fat” when others see their appearance as appallingly and sickly thin.

They chase the ideal but the ideal keeps dropping. There are always just a few more pounds that must be lost.

“The typical anorexic is a white female, approximately 15 to 25 percent below her ideal weight, and between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Both anorexia and bulimia mainly manifest in middle and upper middle-class families. The parents are usually educated, high achievers with at least one being health and diet conscious. One or both parents may also tend toward perfectionism and be intolerant of failure in themselves and others. Anorexia rarely starts after age twenty-five.” The illness can also strike men and older women and other racial ethnic groups.

“People with anorexia tend to be ‘to good to be true.’ They rarely disobey, keep their feelings to themselves, and tend to be perfectionists, good students, and excellent athletes….Having followed the wishes of others, for the most part, they have not learned how to cope with the problems typical of adolescence, growing up, and becoming independent. Controlling their weight appears to offer two advantages, at least initially: they can take control of their lives and gain approval from others.”6

“Anorexia is characterized by preoccupation with body weight, behaviors directed toward losing weight, and intense fear of gaining weight, coupled with an unusual preoccupation with food including bizarre behaviors in handling it.

There is often refusal to eat, except for small portions, and a denial of hunger…There may be exaggerated interest in food and food planning. Often there is a high energy level coupled with excessive, compulsive exercise with diminished signs of fatigue. Menstrual periods will stop, sometimes as weight loss begins.

As weight loss becomes severe, there is an intolerance to cold, especially notable are cold hands and feet. Loss of head hair coupled with a growth of fine body and facial hair may also occur. Pulse rate slows and blood pressure will fall…Sooner or later depression will occur, frequently coupled with thoughts of suicide. Social withdrawal usually occurs early as the victim becomes alienated from family and friends alike.”7


Bulimia is identified by alternating eating and purging. The bulimic feels out of control and unable to stop eating. She stops only when she is physically unable to eat more, she runs out of food, or guilt and self-loathing become so great she must purge.

Purging usually means vomiting by forcing her fingers down her throat but others use medicines intended to induce vomiting. Some also use laxatives and excessive exercise in order to keep from gaining weight. At times they may deny themselves food much like the anorexic.

“While they (bulimics) fear food they consume large quantities of it-sometimes up to 20,000 calories at a time. The foods on which they binge tend to be ‘comfort foods’- sweet foods, high in calories, or smooth, soft foods like ice cream, cake, and pastry. An individual may binge anywhere from twice a day to several times daily. In many instances, after the binge comes the purge. A bulimic may use as many as twenty-or more-laxatives a day.” 8

Bulimia normally starts later in adolescence at ages 18-20 but may start earlier. Unlike anorexia, bulimics know of their problem, it is all too obvious. This disorder may not be noticed by those around them. It may appear that they have a weight problem although some binge eaters are able to maintain a normal weight.

“The bulimic looks forward to the binge. Purging is merely the act of atonement for the indulgence of bingeing. To the bulimic, food is a friend, assuaging her loneliness because she won’t let people get close to her. Food is a tranquilizer, providing an escape from pressures and stress. Food is a reward, gobbled down with the attitude, ‘I’ve had a hard day. I deserve these goodies.'” 9

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Bulimics are hard on themselves due to their perceived failures. They have a hard time accepting God’s forgiveness and grace even when they intellectually understand the theology. Their purging is a self-destructive atonement.

While anorexics may appear inflexible and overcontrolled, bulimics tend to be impulsive and under-controlled. Anorexics have amazing control over their appetites; bulimics have little or no control. Both develop rituals regarding food, exercise, and other aspects of their lives.

To the bulimic food is a friend, to anorexics, it is the enemy. Anorexics starve themselves to a perceived ideal weight, while bulimics stay within 5-10 pounds of their ideal weight. Bulimics need peer approval and seek out relationships in contrast to anorexics who withdraw and are very private. Both, however, feel isolated and alone with their secret.

The neuroendocrine system, which regulates sexual function, physical growth, and development, appetite and digestion, sleep, heart, and kidney function, emotions, thinking, and memory are seriously affected by eating disorders. In bulimics, if purging is excessive, confusion, disorientation, rupturing of the esophagitis, intractable constipation, erosion of the teeth, seizures, and cardiac arrest may occur. Bulimics lose salt, water, and potassium all of which can create physical problems. If Ipecac is abused, death may result as Ipecac is toxic to the heart.

Seventy percent of all individuals with bulimia recover. Five to eighteen percent of all people with anorexia die within ten years. Seventy percent who receive treatment make a full recovery. The rest may have a lifelong problem even when the condition is not active.

Continue to Part 3 –Recovery from Eating Disorders 

“I work with individuals to actually find themselves in Christ and have their lives truly function well in Him. Often I am serving those most hurt by the world – those who have experienced severe trauma and abuse and helping them to find complete healing from the pain and the memories.

I have seen the Lord heal hundreds. Nothing has been too difficult for Him.”