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What are eating disorders?

Healthy eating behaviour is based on two sensations: hunger and satiety. Eating disorders disrupt this mechanism. This disturbance is a physiological consequence of malnutrition and can be reversed if diet is improved. Anorexia and bulimia, recognised as conditions in their own right, are two examples of eating disorders. It is estimated that 9% to 10% of adult women suffer from compulsive-type eating problems. Men represent 10% to 15% of people affected by an eating disorder. These disorders are very often triggered during adolescence.
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What is bulimia?

People with bulimia are overcome by episodes of binge eating, meaning they feel compelled to overeat and may go so far as to make themselves vomit. As with anorexics, people with bulimia are victims of an obsession with food; they avoid eating meals with other people and thus withdraw from friends and family and have very low self-esteem. Furthermore, they experience feelings of self-disgust and shame after episodes of overeating. Bulimia affects 5% to 8% of teenagers in Switzerland.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa, often simply referred to as anorexia, is characterised by a voluntary restriction of food intake. This restriction leads to weight loss and often the absence of menstruation in women. People suffering from anorexia nervosa have a distorted vision of their body combined with a fear of gaining weight.

For 40% to 50% of people with this disease suffer from a restrictive type of anorexia, whereby they aim to reduce their calorie intake to the strict minimum. For others, draconian restrictions are followed by bulimic episodes during which they binge on vast quantities of food and then move on to a phase of purging either by vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively. Anorexia nervosa affects 1% to 2% of teenagers in Switzerland

Causes and prevention of eating disorders

There is no single main cause of eating disorders. Several factors are generally at the root of eating disorders, comprising a combination of genetic and psychological factors, problems within the family circle and/or the cultural and social environment. This disorder is therefore often the expression of a deeper malaise which the afflicted person feels unable to control and strives to control his/her body weight by way of compensation.

The support of family and friends and adapted treatment can help the patient recover. It is important to detect these disorders as early as possible to prevent physical and psychological consequences. The priority for those suffering from anorexia is to reach a weight where their life is no longer in danger, while people with bulimia aim to reduce their episodes of overeating. The issues of self-esteem, body image and the potential problems causing the disease can then be addressed.