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Bulimia Symptoms Impair Daily Function

Friday, August 3, 2007
By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women and men with symptoms of bulimia may find that their eating problems take a heavy toll on their daily lives, a new study suggests.

In a survey of more than 3,000 Australians, researchers found that bulimia symptoms -- including binge eating, purging and fasting -- were not uncommon among women and men.

What's more, these symptoms impaired day-to-day activities in both sexes, the study authors report in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Bulimia is often described as a "binge-purge" eating disorder because many affected individuals go through cycles of excessive eating followed by purging -- through vomiting or abusing laxatives and diuretics. However, there are also non-purging forms of bulimia, in which people exercise excessively or fast to counter their binge-eating episodes.

Unlike those with anorexia, people with bulimic symptoms are often not underweight, but both disorders involve an unhealthy focus on weight and body shape.

In the current study, researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne looked at how these behaviors and attitudes affected people's ability to work, study and take care of other day-to-day responsibilities.

It's important to understand the symptoms' impact on daily life because binge eating and extreme weight-control measures affect more people than is commonly thought, according to lead study author Dr. Jonathan M. Mond.

He told Reuters Health, based on his research in Australia, these eating disorder symptoms seem to be on the rise in both women and men.

Of the 1,757 women and 1,290 men in the study, 7.3 percent of women and 6.0 percent of men reported binge eating. Nearly 5 percent of women and 3.4 percent of men said they'd fasted to control their weight, while 2.3 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively, admitted to purging.

For both men and women, these bulimia-type symptoms often interfered with daily life, the study found.

However, the obsession with weight and shape seemed to be particularly debilitating for women. Those who tended to attach their self-esteem to their feelings about their bodies were more likely to report problems with managing their daily responsibilities.

It's well known that women, whether they have bulimia or not, have more body-image concerns than men do, Mond noted -- a fact, he added, that's not surprising given the "relentless" media focus on women's weight and shape.

But even among those with eating disorder symptoms, he explained, women are more likely than men to have extreme body concerns -- and, as this study suggests, suffer more distress because of it.

However, Mond pointed out, this could change, as eating disorders and body-image concerns seem to be increasingly common among men.

SOURCE: International Journal of Eating Disorders, July 2007
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