Anorexia Nervosa: A condition characterized by intense fear of gaining weight or becoming obese, as well as a distorted body image, leading to an excessive weight loss from restricting food intake and excessive exercise.
Bulimia Nervosa: An eating disorder in which persistent overconcern with the body weight and shape leads to repeat episodes of bingeing (consuming large amounts of food in a short time) associated with induced vomiting.
Those are the clinical definitions for eating disorders, the definitions that most people think of when they hear one of the two names. Unfortunately, thats as far as their thoughts go. Almost no one thinks about what causes them, how the disorders are treated, or, most importantly, what its like to have one. My report is meant to cover all aspects of eating disorders… and thats what its going to do. Although, Im going to offer a more in-depth look into the biological, psychological and sociological aspects of these diseases. Needless to say, the physical effects of an eating disorder are nothing to sneeze at… but thats just the tip of the iceburg.
Imagine a thirteen-year-old girl who weighs 60 pounds because she is starving herself. Every time she looks in the mirror, she sees herself as fat. Picture her parents watching their daughter literally disintegrating into thin air. This is the life of a family dealing with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are a major problem with the young people of today’s society. While anorexia and bulimia are socio-logical problems plaguing the world’s youth, there are also other eating disorders. This “fat phobia”, or fear of being over-weight, disturbs people to the point where they are in a way, committing suicide.
Eating disorders have been termed the disease of the 1980’s. Even though it has been found that 95% of people who suffer anorexia or bulimia are woman, mostly from white, relatively affluent families, the pre-occupation and obsession with food are not limited to women. Although some men also deal with eating disorders, most research has been done on women. In 1985, 95% of women felt they were overweight, while only 25% were actually considered medically overweight. By the age of thirteen approx-imately 53% of females are unhappy with their bodies, and by the age of eighteen approximately 78% are unhappy.
Our culture could be seen as a narcissist society. Narcissism is a preoccupation with one’s self, a concern with how one appears to others, and with living up to an image. It seems that appear-ance is an important factor in our everyday life. While all women want to look as perfect as “Barbie”, for some it just isn’t possible. For women, being slender is almost synonymous with being successful. It is also thought that 40% of the adult U.S. population is significantly overweight. Some experts feel that eating disorders are reaching epidemic proportions and estimate the national rate to be as high as 12% of women . In fact, according to the Phoenix Gazette on November 7, 1985, “Almost one out of three women diet once a month, and one in six considers herself a perpetual dieter” . It is considered that 54-86% of college women binge eats. They do this and still research shows that most college aged women: 1) widely accept the idea that “guys like thin girls”, 2) think being thin is crucial to physical attractiveness, and 3) believe that they are not as thin as men would like them to be. While in fact most college women want to be thinner then most college men say women should be. In the United States alone, our society spends $33 billion on the diet industry, $20 billion on cosmetics, and $300 billion on plastic surgery. This just proves the fetish Americans have with their looks. Unfortunately being thin does play a role in our society. It is a fact that attractive defendants seem to receive more positive courtroom judgements and a company is more likely to hire a tall thin man then a short pudgy man. These factors are just increasing the chance of eating disorders throughout society. The most common eating disorder being experienced in today’s youth is anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia is usually defined as: willful starvation-deliberate and obsessive starvation in the pursuit of thinness. This “willful starvation” is seen as the only way to lose weight. Anorexics who are close to their deaths will show you the spots on their body where they feel they need to lose weight. An estimated
10- 20% of anorexics will eventually die from complications related to the disorder. Some signs and symptoms of anorexia are: noticeable weight loss, becoming withdrawn, excessive exercise, fatigue, always being cold, muscle weakness, excuses for not eating, guilt or shame about eating, mood swings, irregular menstruation, evidence of vomiting, laxative abuse, or diet pills, and the frequent checking of body weight on a scale. Some theorists believe that these disorders may be caused by the mass media’s presentation of the ideal body. But according to the ABNFV or the Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa Foundation of Victoria it is over simplification to blame the mass media’s presentation of the ‘ideal’ shape; though western society’s increased emphasis on the slim, fit body places pressure on many people. So there is no conclusive evidence on exactly what causes anorexia.
Another common eating disorder seen in society is bulimia. Bulimia involves binge eating accompanied by induced vomiting to inhibit weight gain. The average women in the United States between the ages of 19 and 39 periodically go on food binges where they eat extremely high quantities of high calorie foods in a short space of time. Bingeing varies for all people, for one person a binge may range from 1000 to 10000 calories, for another, one cookie could be considered a binge. Bulimics are usually people that do not feel secure about their own self worth, and
usually strive for the approval of others. Food becomes the only source of comfort for a bulimic, and usually serves as a function for either blocking in or letting out feelings. Unlike anorexics, bulimics do realize they have a problem and are more likely to seek help. The likely hood of a bulimic seeking help decreases the percentage of people who die from this disorder.
A third eating disorder experienced in our society is body dysmorphic disorder. This is defined as “imagined ugliness”, or where the person sees herself/himself as ugly no matter what. This disorder is much harder to recognize then anorexia or bulimia. Clues to this disorder are slight and often subtle but they indicate an estrangement from the body and a distorted self-image that reflects an underlying mental illness. Some people feel this is a new disorder because they haven’t heard about it as much, but the truth is that in 1891 an Italian physician named Morselli discovered it, the root word dysmorfia literally means ugliness, so this disorder is actually the fear of one’s own ugliness. This pre-occupation with ones looks tends to be persis-tent and eventually leads to marked social dysfunctional and, occasionally, behavioral extremes. This disorder can liter-ally drive people crazy.
The number of eating disorders in athletes is on the rise, especially in sports like gymnastics, figure skating, dancing, and swimming. According to a 1992 American College of Sports Medicine study, eating disorders affected 62% of females in sports like figure skating and gymnastics. Famous gymnasts such as Kathy Johnson, Nadia Comaneci, and Kathy Rigby, a 1972 Olympian who fought eating disorders for 12 years, have come forward and admitted to fighting eating disorders. It got so bad for Rigby that she went into cardiac arrest twice because of it. Many female athletes fall victim to eating disorders in a desperate attempt to be thin in order to please coaches and judges. Many coaches are guilty of pres-suring these athletes to be thin by criticizing them or making reference to their weight. Those comments could cause an athlete to resort to dangerous methods of weight control and can do serious emotional damage to the athlete.
For example, in 1988, at a meet in Budapest, a US judge told
Christy Henrich, one of the world’s top gymnasts that she had to lose weight if she hoped to make the Olympic Squad. Christy resorted to anorexia and bulimia as a way to control her weight and her eating disorders eventually took her life. On July
26, 1994, at the age of 22, Christy Henrich died of multiple organ failure. It had gotten so bad for her that at one point she weighed as little as 47 pounds. Athletes with eating disorders can be at a higher risk for medical complications such as electrolyte imbalances and cardiac arrhythmia. Coaches need to educate them-selves on the dangers and the signs that an athlete may be suffering from an eating disorder, and not only coaches, but athletes, need to remember no gold medal is worth dying for.
There are many ways of helping someone with an eating disorder. If you suspect that your child or anyone you know has an eating disorder you should never: tell them their crazy, blame them, gossip about them, follow them around to check their eating or purging behavior. You should also never ignore them, reject them, tell them to quit the ridiculous behavior, or feel you need to solve their problems. Some things you should do are to listen with understanding, appreciate their openness and the risk they took to tell you, support them and be available. Two of the most important things you should do are to always give her hope, and continuously, but gently suggest counseling.
Through medical treatment, there are also many ways to help a person with an eating disorder. One method is by psychological counseling. A problem with treating anorexia is getting the victim to first admit that they have a problem, and to not deny their illness any longer. Through counseling, the root of the victims problem is found. They are helped to find and recognize their distorted view of their body. Also any form of abuse they may have been through is brought up and often family members are in counseling sessions to help the victim. It has been found that group-counseling sessions have been found to be useful because a common perception of the problem is found. For the physical aspect of anorexia, weight gain is the first step to recovery. Some patients may even have to be hospitalized because their weight loss has been so severe. Physicians may prescribe gradual in-creases in food intake and dietary supplements, and tell a patient not to exercise. In the most severe cases, especially if a patient resists instructions to eat, nutrients and fluids may be admin-istered intravenously. During hospitalization, patients receive both physical and mental care. They may have to stay there for a few days or even weeks at a time to help treat anorexia. However, the mental effects of this disease may take longer to treat. With both physical and mental care, anorexia can often be treated and its effects can be reversed. Researchers estimate that of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, 42 percent recover, 30 percent improve somewhat, and more than 20 percent suffer from a chronic eating disorder. New ways are being found to prevent anorexia. Through self-image awareness, the virtues of self-esteem and acc-eptance are being promoted. Perhaps with less emphasis in society over appearance, anorexia may finally be prevented.
Roughly two million young women suffer from the symptoms of anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Eating disorders are caused by a striving to “look good”. This need to “look good” is so bad that in the mid 1980’s 477,000 esthetic surgeries were done, that was up 61% from 1981. Although not all is known about eating disorders, we must keep studying them, and the effect society has on causing these problems, so we can someday be able to control and prevent these diseases.
The pain and suffering that both the victim and their family and friends go through is unfathomable. No matter how many words are written or situations are explained, the true understanding and reasoning of an eating disorder is only known by the victim themself.
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