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The psychiatric history of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: weight concerns and bulimic symptoms in early case reports






International Journal of Eating Disorders 8(3): 259-273

The psychiatric history of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: weight concerns and bulimic symptoms in early case reports

British, French, American, German, and Italian historical medical reports on possible cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were critically reevaluated in order to trace the history of weight concerns, binge eating, and methods of food reversal like self-induced vomiting in these texts. It is argued that weight concerns are a new phenomenon in prolonged extreme fasting and has superseded traditional ascetic motivations for fasting from the first use of the term anorexia nervosa on. Binge eating, or bulimia as a symptom, on the other hand, has been known ever since ancient times; what is new here is its combination with methods of food reversal, which are motivated by concerns about weighing too much. This combination, bulimia nervosa (DSM-III-R), was first described in cases of primary anorexia and started becoming more frequent only in the 1940s. First accounts of possible cases of bulimia nervosa at normal body weight were published in the 1930s. Methodological problems of retrospective diagnosing and factors inherent to the history of medicine which might have influenced the history of medical writing about eating disorders are discussed.


Accession: 001982527

DOI: 10.1002/1098-108x(198905)8:3<259::aid-eat2260080302>3.0.co;2-#



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