Anorexia Nervosa vs. Bulimia Nervosa

What are some differences between these two disorders? How do these disorders affect people who suffer from them? What leads a person to become either anorexic or bulimic? Are the causes internal, external, or both? Explain your answers.

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Well, anorexia nervosa involves the gradual caloric reduction of food until the body loses enough weight that it becomes unhealthy for a person. Bulimia nervosa involves a binge/purge cycle that entails eating large amounts of food in a short period of time and then vomiting (or laxatives, etc…). Anorexia and bulimia can lead to death in some cases.

In the biopsychology class, there was an explanation for anorexia that made a lot of sense to me. The text in this class kind of touched on it but really didn’t go into detail. It is of course from the behaviorist perspective. Say a person starts to reduce the amount of food that they eat in order to lose weight (i.e. diet). As they reduce their food intake the positive incentive value of food goes up and there is sometimes social pressure from friends and family to eat more. At some point, the person gives in and has a “meal”. Now because they have been eating so little the “meal” that would not normally hurt us makes them completely sick. Over time they begin to associate the neutral stimuli of a “meal” with the unconditional stimuli of the sickness that follows; therefore, the “meal” becomes a conditioned stimulus. Once they made the association it becomes very difficult for a person suffering from anorexia to eat large enough amounts of food to regain the weight. Likewise, a person might also choose to purge because they are so sick after a “meal” and this can lead to bulimia.

I think that the greatest cause of internal, external, or otherwise is social conformity. On TV people are so skinny these days. Today was my three children’s first day of school. In fact, the first day ever for two of them. As I was dropping them off I was trying to think about how to answer this DQ, oddly enough. Anyways, I marveled at how every one of the parents looked normal. There were no supermodels, no Tom Cruises, no Nicole Kidman. We were just all normal looking, most of us slightly overweight. Yes, social conformity to the media paradigm of the thin woman is the prime cause of both of these disorders, in my view.

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Nevid, J.S., & Rathus, S.A. (2005). Psychology and the challenges of life: Adjustment in the new millennium (9th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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