W

hen gymnast Christy Henrich was buried on a Friday morning in July 1994, she weighed 61 pounds. Three weeks earlier, she had weighed an unbelievable 47 pounds. Between those two dates, she celebrated her twenty-second birthday.

Christy suffered from anorexia nervosa, a psychological disorder common among professional athletes in which the patient perceives herself as fat—even though she is obviously not. A year before her death, Christy told a newspaper reporter, "My life is a horrifying nightmare. It feels like there's a beast inside me, like a monster."

Christy's decline into self-starvation began in 1988, when a judge at a gymnastics competition told her she'd have to lose weight if she wanted to make the U.S. Olympic team. Christy weighed 90 pounds. From then on, with only a few respites, she ate nearly nothing, exercised many hours each day, and used laxatives to drop her weight lower and lower. Finally, it dropped so low that her vital organs could not function.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa were once recognized almost exclusively among girls and young women. But the male of the species can have distorted body image too—and act on it. One survey of eight-year-old boys revealed that more than a third of them had attempted weight loss. A variation on the eating disorder theme increasingly being seen among boys and young men is called muscle dysmorphia or, more commonly, "bigorexia." It is the drive to appear muscular, and may entail taking amino acid food supplements. Without a doctor's guidance, altering nutrition so drastically to achieve a popular body form is dangerous.

Breaking Bulimia

Breaking Bulimia

We have all been there: turning to the refrigerator if feeling lonely or bored or indulging in seconds or thirds if strained. But if you suffer from bulimia, the from time to time urge to overeat is more like an obsession.

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