Most people aren't aware of this, but typically, Anorexia develops in children who have very controlling parents. As the child develops into adolescence, they subconsciously start questioning why they should grow up at all. This is where anorexia stems from. In particular for anorexic girls want to maintain a petite body - essentially she wants to remain a kid. Anorexic girls don't covet the roundness of a woman; they want the flatness of a child.
A symptom of an anorexic is that they reduce their daily calorie intake to less than 300 - a ridiculous amount. They over exercise and wear baggy clothes. Now in most cases, when parents notice this they start running after the child to ‘put on weight'. This backfires, since anorexia is fundamentally a control issue. So this parent-child circle of control or rebelliousness continues. Anorexics have a faulty perception of body image and they are mentally unbalanced. Losing weight becomes the outlet for their compulsive behavior.
For girls with anorexia, their female hormones start to go haywire, leading to conditions like Amenorrhea (delayed periods). They also start losing their hair. See what's happening here? Everything about them which makes them resemble a woman, starts to become affected. Of course, an eating disorder is as much a physical issue as it is a psychological one - you're not eating enough and the body isn't getting the necessary nutrients it needs. Anorexics also deal with burnout; their muscles are always sore thanks to too much exercising.
The first thing to do as a friend, family or counselor to an anorexic is NEVER FOCUS ON TARGET WEIGHT. I cannot stress this enough. This is the trigger that might send them in the wrong direction. When they get worked up about their weight, ask them to do breathing exercises and focus on being healthy instead of skinny.
With bulimia on the other hand, the principal issue is guilt. Bulimia is a binge-purge cycle. Purge, according to the dictionary, means to ‘ward off guilt'. This is a typical bulimic routine: you're eating - you're guilty - you're eating - you're guilty. Bulimics will overdo everything that helps them secrete from their body (to them it means they're losing weight).The tragedy of the plot is - all slimming centers are making people bulimic. Before and after muscle stimulation, they make you pee and then weigh you. You haven't really lost weight, you've just lost body water. If your weight shoots up, they tell you that you're constipated and give you laxatives. Enemas are now used for people who want to lose weight, instead of cleaning the stomach which was the original purpose. These therapeutic processes were formulated by ancient learned people, but they had different purposes than what we use them for today. Now, the original purpose is defeated, and there isn't enough awareness or a regulated process for when they should actually be used.
As opposed to anorexia, Bulimia can cause instant death - the heart can rupture due to too much puking. A lot of Hollywood stars have died of Bulimia. Bulimics also have dramatic weight fluctuations in very short periods of time. To make up for eating, they try to compensate with exercise - sometimes even doing more than one workout a day. Each binge is typically followed by depression, and a rigid diet. Because of their erratic eating habits, bulimics can eat up to 10,000 calories a day and their stomachs become extended as a result. Their eyes blacken due to blood vessels breaking.
Eventually, it takes its toll - weakness, restlessness, constipation, abdominal pain, lack of periods are all part of the package. This is generally when a counselor is brought in.
The first thing I do is educate the patient about nutrition - focus on low calorie food with a high-glycemic index such as oats and nuts. Counselors also need to go to the root of the problem which typically develops in childhood. It is necessary to make it clear to the patient that I will not help them put on weight.
In the initial stages, I find that the patient literally needs to be mollycoddled, like children. If they feel uncomfortable, I usually try relaxation techniques. Once I've won them over, I then try to explain to them the irrationality of their suffering and try to make them see reason. Enlisting the support of their friends and family to support is also important.
If you are helping someone you love deal with Anorexia or Bulimia, refrain from lecturing to them about putting on weight; don't control them, appreciate them and listen to them without judgment. They need to make changes in their attitude and behaviour. And every time there is a desire to panic or purge, encourage them to breathe.
Since these disorders are deep-rooted, they cannot be solved overnight. The trick is to be patient and supportive, always.
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