It was not until 1980 that eating disorders were recognized by the medical community. Eating disorders sufferers generally have unhealthy thought about their body shape and weight, and battle life-threatening obsessions with food; untreated, these disorders can lead to death. Studies show that people with anorexia are up to ten times more likely to die as a result of their illness compared to those without the disorder. The most common complications that lead to death are electrolyte and fluid imbalances, and cardiac arrest.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two of the most widely known eating disorders. Several variations of eating disorders are grouped as eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS); these disorders are mostly similar to anorexia or bulimia, only with separate characteristics. One type of EDNOS which has been getting increasing media attention and research in recent years is binge-eating disorder.
A person with anorexia nervosa basically refuses to maintain a healthy body weight; individuals whose weight is at least 15 percent below their normal body weight might fall into this category. The term anorexia nervosa which literally means “nervous lack of appetite” is misleading; rather than lack an appetite, anorectics battle hunger due to their extreme fear of becoming what they perceive to be fat or gaining weight. Anorectics are usually adept at concealing their self-starvation; if forced to eat, they may engage in purging. Because of this secretive nature, anorexia is often difficult to diagnose and treat.
On many levels, bulimia is characterized by a repeated cycle of binge eating and purging. A binge is when an individual eats an abnormally large amount of food in a particular period of time, followed by purging. Bulimics usually purged themselves of consumed food by induced vomiting, taking laxatives, diuretics and enema or engaging in fasting or excessive exercise. Like anorectics, bulimics are usually ashamed of their behavior and will attempt to hide their illness from others. It is often hard to recognize a bulimic person as they tend to maintain a normal body weight.