Eating disorders are the nasty secret that many teen-agers and young women spend time hiding from others. Statistically, anorexia strikes more than one in every 100 teen-age girls and young women. Bulimia occurs at an even higher rate, possibly up to one out of five college-aged women.
Anorexia is characterized by a dramatic weight loss from self-starvation or from severe self-imposed dieting. Bulimia is characterized by binging and purging, accompanied by frequent weight fluctuations rather than profound continuous weight loss.
Cases of anorexia and bulimia have been reported beginning as early as age 7, but young people seem more susceptible at two particular times. The first is just before or just after puberty. Some experts believe this may be the individual's unconscious effort to delay the physical maturing of the body.
The second is when a young person is undergoing a major stress or life change: moving, divorce of parents, death of a parent, a broken love relationship, ridicule by others that the individual is fat or becoming fat.
"You become very aware of women whose feet
are pointed the wrong way in bathroom stalls, flushing more than once."
---Recovering Bulimic Female---
While medical causes such as biochemical imbalances or hormonal disorders may contribute to the development of eating disorders, psychological and social factors are generally considered the root of the problem. Sometimes the dynamics of family relationships may play a role.
With the emphasis society places on being thin, young girls and women try to attain the bodily perfection depicted in the media. The most common route to the perfect body is through dieting, which has become one of the top industries in the United States today.
According to a 1992 article by Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, "dieting...(leads) to disordered emotions as well as disordered eating, and, in severe cases, dieting contributes to eating disorders."
The irony, of course, is that diets do not necessarily improve everyone's health, and any improvement that may occur is as temporary as the weight loss itself. For some people, dieting can actually cause health problems because of poor nutrition not meeting all of one's body requirements.
Some sociologists believe women in the past two decades have had to hold down three jobs: being a mother; making a living; and being thin.
"Being thin sends a visual message to the world a woman is competent at her other two jobs," says Naomi Woolf in her book, "Beauty Myth." "Thinness means discipline and efficiency, and in control."
Eating disorders have been linked with depression, obsessive-compulsiveness, alcoholism, self-abuse and self-mutilation.
Eating disorders can effect any kind of family. Before 1992, attempts to blame certain types of family dynamics were popular, but now doctors are getting much more aware.
Whereas doctors used to give victims nutritional advice, now medical recovery includes work with psychologists as well as dieticians. Families, particularly parents, feel a huge sense of relief when professional help intervenes.
The mother in particular is glad not to be responsible for getting this child to eat. She is not the police anymore.
In trying to help someone, people tend to concentrate on food intake. It requires professional help to work on the negative emotions that a victim has channeled into a destructive coping mechanism.
"Why are you doing this to us?"
---from "Some things NOT to say to someone with an eating disorder"---
Psychologists point out the role guilt plays in eating disorders, and how laying it on thick perpetuates that. It is recommended that expressing concern and approachability through statements such as, "Want to have some dinner with me?" Simple, nonthreatening communication may allow a victim to let someone get close enough to help.
Society's ambivalent feelings toward food can be seen on the cover of any women's magazine: Delicious recipes are touted next to sure-fire weight loss plans. Self-help books about learning to accept one's body as it is often cross the line into another type of obsession.
Until society loses its "one size for all" approach--with that size being based on Kate Moss-like proportions--men and women are going to have to accept that all of us are more than what we see in the mirror or the numbers we register on a scale.
HERE'S WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Although victims of anorexia and bulimia do not exhibit every symptom, there are a number of generally observable signs.
PHYSICAL: Extreme weight change, hypothermia, insomnia, constipation, skin rash and dry skin, loss of hair and nail quality, dental caries and periodontal disease, cessation of the menstural cycle.
Behavioral: Unusual eating habits: eating only foods of a particular texture or color, no longer eating regular meals with families, arranging food on a plate, excessive chewing. With bulimics, household food supplies may be quickly exhausted.
Hyperactivity or high interest in exercise. Frequent weighing. Use of laxatives, diuretics, emetics and diet pills. High achievement reflecting attempts to attain mental as well as physical control.
EMOTIONAL AND PERCEPTUAL CHARACTERISTICS
Distorted body image and denial. Inability to think clearly due to biological changes. Dichotomous thinking in which events are viewed only in extremes. Overpersonalization of even innocuous words or actions by others.
Low sense of self-worth and self-control. Perfectionism. Masked anger. Good and bad food list, with more and more foods moving to the "bad" list.
Where to Turn For Help
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Highland Park, IL 60035 USA
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association
418 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021 USA
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders
PO Box 5102
Eugene, OR 97405 USA
Women Insisting on Natural Shape
©Katherine Fox, C.C.H.T....1996-2006
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