The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to eating disorders
A disturbance in the normal attitude towards food can develop into a full-blown eating disorder. The two most familiar of these are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa involves a refusal to eat. It is a psychological illness, in which the sufferers have an obsessive and irrational fear of putting on weight. They react to this by starving themselves, which results in a dramatic loss of weight. Although the illness is frequently referred to just as anorexia, medically speaking, anorexia is simply a loss of appetite for food and may be due to any of a number of (usually short lived) causes, such as a fever or anxiety. In contrast to this, anorexia nervosa sufferers resist the urge to eat for emotional reasons. The name for the condition comes from the Greek anorexíā, from an- 'without' + órexis 'appetite, longing, desire'. The word anorexia is first recorded in the first half of the 17th century.
Thought by many experts to be a form of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which sufferers have irresistible urges to overeat, consuming large quantities of food in a short time. During a single such 'binge' many thousands of calories may be consumed. As is the case with anorexia nervosa, the sufferer has an intense fear of being fat and after a binge will probably feel guilty and depressed. This results in purging, achieved by inducing vomiting, the abuse of laxatives and/or diuretics, or fasting. In contrast to anorexia nervosa the sufferer’s weight is typically normal or even a little above normal. Bulimia nervosa mostly affects women between 15 and 30 years of age. The word bulimia ultimately derives from the Greek boulimia from bous meaning ox and limos meaning hunger and so means ‘great hunger’.
In 1997 the related term orthorexia nervosa was coined when it was used in an article published in the Sept-Oct edition of the Yoga Journal. It is used to describe a condition where sufferers have an excessive concern with consuming a diet they consider to be particularly healthy in some regard. Such diets often involve the elimination of foods or food groups considered to be harmful to the person’s health. The concentration on eating what is right is reflected in the name as ortho- means right, correct and is most familiar from the word orthodox, which means what is accepted as right practice. So the name means ‘right appetite’ and was coined as a modification of anorexia nervosa. Often starting as a healthy interest in diet, as with other eating disorders, orthorexia nervosa develops into an unhealthy obsession that comes to control the sufferer’s life and, ironically given that the sufferer started out with the intention of eating healthily, leads to a deterioration in the person’s health. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, the obsession involved is with eating correctly as the sufferer sees it, rather than with being thin.
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