There is a vast difference between the desire to shed a few pounds and an intense addiction and obsession with losing weight. Fixation on weight loss can lead to psychological disturbances that manifest as eating disorders, which can lead to hospitalization, and in extreme cases may result in death.
Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is an eating disorder medically defined as the refusal to maintain a body weight that is within 15 percent of an individual’s normal body weight. Anorexia is classified into two subgroups -- restricting or binge-eating/purging. The disorder is classified by the behaviors that are present.
The restricting type of anorexia involves severely limiting food intake in an effort to maintain an extremely low body weight. Restricting type anorexics often engage in excessive amounts of exercise as well. The binge-eating/purging subtype of anorexia involves severe food restriction as well as self-induced vomiting or purging behaviors, such as laxative abuse, use of diuretics and enemas.
Clinical features of anorexia include distorted body image, intense and irrational fear of gaining weight, preoccupation with food, abnormal eating habits and denial of illness. Over time, anorexia also causes a variety of physical symptoms including brittle hair and nails, yellow skin, dry mouth, increased sensitivity to cold, loss of muscle and body fat, confusion and depression. When body weight drops significantly, anorexia often leads to amenorrhea, which is the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual periods.
Bulimia nervosa is an addiction to weight loss characterized by repeated episodes of binging and purging. Someone with bulimia usually eats vast amounts of food in one sitting and then induces vomiting to rid her body of calories. This type of bulimia is called purging bulimia. With non-purging bulimia, attempts to rid the body of calories may involve excessive exercise, laxative abuse and use of diuretics.
Bulimic behaviors include eating to the point of feeling pain, a sense of loss of control, self-induced vomiting after eating, excessive exercise, preoccupation with body image and distorted body image. The physical symptoms of bulimia include erosion of teeth and gums, abnormal bowel function, swollen glands, sore throat, sores on the hands, dehydration, irregular heartbeat, depression, anxiety and changes in menstruation.
Both types of eating disorders are classified as mental illnesses. Treatment for these weight loss addictions is often long-term and involves psychotherapy. People who refuse to cease self-destructive weight loss addiction may be hospitalized.