Eating disorders are thought to be linked to our emotions. Anorexia Nervosa (AN) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN) are two of the most prevalent eating disorders. The 'Nervosa' part of the name indicates that there is also a part of the condition that is linked to the nervous system. They are often defined as emotional disorders.
With AN, a person will want to lose weight. There are many theories as to why AN develops. For example, some argue that it is due to societal pressures. In recent decades we have been exposed to extremely underweight models and idealised concepts of beauty. To try to attain these high levels of body perfection a person may have to severely restrict what they eat. Others argue that a child reaching puberty may start to undereat to avoid the bodily changes associated with puberty, such as the development of breasts, increased fat levels around the hips, and so on.
Whatever the psychological reasons for the development of anorexia or bulimia, they also have physical effects on the body. The physical symptoms a person with anorexia nervosa can have include:
- Brittle nails
- Dry skin
- Chapped lips
- Poor circulation
- Reduced metabolism
- Reduced libido
- Easy bruising
- Frail appearance
- Amenorrhoea (no menstruation)
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Abdominal pain
- Lanugo (this is a thin layer of hair all over the body, to promote warmth)
- Zinc deficiency
- Reduced immune system function
- Reduced white blood cell count
- Stunting of growth
- Mineral and electrolyte imbalances
- Hair thins
- Tooth decay
- Osteoporosis due to reduction in bone density
Many of these symptoms are secondary to starvation. In rare cases the symptoms cause epilepsy or cardiac arrhythmias which result in death. Hormonal abnormalities can also occur. These include raised levels of blood cortisol and growth hormones and decreased levels of gonadotropin.
The physical symptoms of a person with bulimia nervosa are similar to those listed above but also include stomach and intestinal ulcers, inflammation of the oesophagus, risk of heart failure, swollen salivary glands, the risk of a ruptured stomach, chronic sore throat, kidney damage and bowel problems. Pitted teeth from gastric acid exposure are also common.
With both of these conditions, we can see how the physical body is affected by the emotions and mental state of the person with the condition.
Would you like to learn more?
Look at the following courses from ACS Distance Education (follow the links in the course titles for details):
Aged Care And Counselling
Child And Adolescent Mental Health
Managing Mental Health In Adults
Human Nutrition I
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