An eating disorder is a way of using food to work out emotional problems.
These illnesses develop because of emotional and/or psychological problems.
Eating disorders are the way some people deal with stress. In todays society,
teenagers are pressured into thinking that bring thin is the same thing as being
happy. Chemical balances in the brain that may also result in depression,
obsessive compulsive disorders, and bi-polar disorders may also cause some
eating disorders. Other causes may be emotional events, illnesses, marital or
family problems, manic depression, or ending a relationship. Over eight million
Americans suffer from eating disorders. Over 80% of girls under age thirteen
admit to dieting, one of the main factors linked to eating disorders. Although
eating disorders are mainly found in middle- to upper class, highly educated,
Caucasian, female adolescents, no culture or age group is immune to them (EDA
HP, n.p.). The three major eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia
nervosa, and compulsive over-eating or binge-eating.
The most dangerous eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa
translates to nervous loss of hunger. It is a mental illness involving the
irrational fear of gaining weight. Usually, the victim is a perfectionist,
although he or she may suffer from a low self-esteem. In general, a member of
the opposite sex triggers anorexia. The first disease resembling present-day
anorexia is one called Anorexia Mirabilis, or Miraculous lack of
appetite. It is described as a disease of insanity, possibly like cancer,
tuberculosis, or diabetes. It was believed to arise from a diseased mental
state. Sir William Gull, a physician to Englands royal family, said that
these anorexics were suffering from a perversion of the will (Silverson).
In 1888, a French psychiatrist, Charles Lasegue viewed anorexia from a social
standpoint. He believed it was a way of rebelling. The Children of this time
were expected to and forced to clean their plates. They were also accustomed to
well-regulated meal times. Another cause of the disease in the Victorian era may
have been womens expectations, such as to remain home after childhood. Their
only job was to get married and enhance the familys social status. No
emotional outbursts, such as temper tantrums were permitted. The family life was
suffocating, but a young woman was able to protest in a semi-acceptable manner
by not eating. If she became ill, she became the center of attention and
concern, often her goal. Victorian women kept with the ideals of the time by
refusing food and restricting any intake. A hearty appetite was said to
represent sexuality and a lack of self-control, which was strictly prohibited
for women. The era was emphasized by spirituality, which also had an impact on
the restriction of meat. Ironically, most of the women were large, as common
meals were high in starches. Medical evidence of the existence of anorexia has
been documented as far back as 1873. It was decided that this refusal of food
was to attract attention. An American neurologist, Silas Weir Mitchell saw
anorexia as a form of neurasthenia, a nervous disorder characterized by nervous
exhaustion and lack of motivation. Mitchell thought the disease was caused by
any stressful life situation in combination with social pressure. Treatment was
a so-called parentectomy, which was removal from the home, and
force-feeding, if necessary. Mitchell preferred the pampering method, consisting
of a diet low in fats, total seclusion, bed-rest, and massage therapy. Sigmund
Freud, a psychiatrist from Vienna, believed that anorexia was a physical
manifestation of an emotional conflict. He believed that anorexia might be
linked to the subconscious desire to prevent normal sexual development. In the
1930s, doctors theorized that the only way to permanently recover from anorexia
was to explore the cause of the disease in the individual, in addition to weight
gain. In 1973, Dr. Hilde Bruch brought the disease to light for the first time
with her book, Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Person
Within. She believed that anorexics had sever body-image disturbances that
made them unable to identify with and express their emotions (Bruch). In
1982, scientists at the Edinburgh hospital in England hypothesized that anorexia
had a physical basis. These scientists conducted an experiment with 22
volunteers, ten of which were recognized as anorexics. The anorexics claimed to
feel full several hours after eating, supporting the idea that anorexia may have
been a digestive disorder. They disregarded this theory as they noticed that
waste excretion was equal to the normal samples. Anorexia was finally
recognized as an eating disorder in the late 1870s.
Anorexics use food to focus on controlling their life by starving to death.
Ultimately, the illness takes control and the chemical changes in the body
affect the brain and distort thinking, making it impossible for the person to
make rational decisions, especially about eating. Sa the illness progresses, the
victim will suffer from a form of exhaustion from food deprivation. If left
untreated, anorexia can result in death as the body literally feeds off the
persons organs, muscles, and tissue. Anorexia can cause moodiness and
fatigue. Anorexics are hungry all the time, and their mainstream of thinking
revolves around food, sometimes to the point of obsession (Silverson, 9).
Physical symptoms of the illness make it very easy to recognize, such as a
constant feeling of coldness, fine hair growth as a result of decrease in body
temperature, lack of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and dehydration cause the
skin to turn brownish and crack, hair falls out, and lack of potassium causes
kidney and heart failure (Epstein, 55). Often, anorexics claim to feel better
after they begin to restrict their diet. More than 90% of cases of anorexia are
women. Factors that contribute to the illness are personality, family
relationship, and distorted body image. For a young man, anorexia is often a
result of dieting to over-come obesity or to attract a member of the opposite
sex. As the victim begins to lose weight from the restricted diet, she enjoys
the extra admiration and attention she receives. As the comments stop, as a
result of her becoming too thin, she assumes that she is too fat, that her diet
is failing, and she restricts her food intake even more. Although anorexia is
the most dangerous eating disorder, it is certainly not the only eating disorder
that can harm mental and physical health.
In addition to anorexia, another dangerous eating disorder is bulimia.
Bulimia is different from anorexia in that bulimics eat continually, or have
large amounts of food in a short period of time, and the throw up or purge in
some way to prevent gaining weight from the food (Vitkus 115). Bulimia was first
described in the late nineteenth century, but did not receive much attention
until the 1940s, when it was thought to be a symptom of anorexia. Because of
this supposed relationship, the disease was first called bulimarexia. In
1979, it was declared to be a separate disease, and named bulimia, a name
that means ox hunger. Bulimics are easier to diagnose than anorexics, as
they are not hungry during assessment, and depression is also noticed. In order
for bulimia to be classified, certain criteria must be met, including the food
binge must be ingested within a two-hour time frame, terminated by sleep, social
interruption, abdominal pain, or self-induced vomiting, and the episodes must
occur at least twice a week for over three months. Bulimia is most often caused
by problems in dieting. A person who goes off the diet and binges may purge to
relieve himself from the guilt because of it. Bulimia most often occurs in the
late teens to early twenties (Worsnop 1100).
The severity of the illness varies with the individual and the length of time
that the illness has progressed. A bulimic binge may be anywhere from a simple
ice cream cone to ten thousand calories in a two-hour time span. Purging is the
relief for most bulimics. Because they tend to repress anger, insecurity,
anxiety, and cannot handle stress very well, purging feels as though they are
being cleansed of stress as well as food. Once a person realizes she can eat
anything and not gain weight, she becomes caught in a binge-purge cycle that can
last for years. Bulimia, for some, is a way of feeling totally out of control
one minute, and then expressing total control the next. Symptoms of bulimia are
not always easy to recognize. They are difficulty swallowing and retaining food,
swollen and infected salivary glands, damage to the esophagus, burst blood
vessels in the eyes, and tooth decay and loss of enamel (Epstein 66).
Therapists suggest that stuffing the food down symbolizes trying to fill
oneself with all the things one lacks, such as love, self-esteem, and control;
but purging illustrates getting rid of the guilt and unhappiness she feels about
her life. One therapist sees the binge-purge cycle as a way of acting out her
life: Taking rules and definitions of others as guiding principles in her
life, and then purging the fact that she cannot tolerate them and embrace them
as her own (Mathews 45). Clearly, bulimia is a devastating illness, but it is
not the most common eating disorder.
The most common eating disorder is compulsive over-eating. Also known as
binge eating, this eating disorder is similar to bulimia, except that the food
is retained. Compulsive over-eating, or binge eating is believed to be the most
common eating disorder. About 10% of compulsive over-eaters are obese.
Compulsive over-eating causes stress on the body, resulting in hypertension,
high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Bingeing is a relief from reality. It is a way to nurture disappointments as
opposed to facing them. Despite large quantities of food consumed in a binge,
the over-eater may suffer from nutritional shortcomings, as mainly junk food is
binged. Teens who are compulsive over-eaters are often depressed, socially
isolated, and have a low self-esteem. 60% of the cases are women, but no
evidence of likelihood in ethnic groups. Depression is a common symptom, and in
some cases, is the main cause. Binge-eaters should seek help from a
psychiatrist, as the disorder is often a result in lacking in coping skills.
Symptoms of binge eating include: eating more rapidly than usual, eating until
uncomfortably full, eating large amounts when not physically hungry, eating
alone because of embarrassment of the quantities of food consumed, and not being
able to purge after consuming large quantities of food (Dobie 1). Because it is
not always recognized as an eating disorder, compulsive over-eating may have the
most adverse effects on health.
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive over-eating are extremely
serious illnesses that must be recognized before they can be treated. The media
is blamed for so many distorted images of the body. People are beginning to
refuse the idea, however, that thinner is better. Body shapes are known to go in
and out of style. In the 1800s, plumpness was a sign of wealth and class.
Thinness became a sign of beauty in the 1970s with the British super-model
Twiggy. There are many treatments for eating disorders today. One of the hopes
of many psychologists is that humans will begin to feel happy about the way they
are, even if it is a little bigger than the media portrays as ideal.
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