Right now, one percent of all American women—our sisters, mothers and daughters—are starving themselves; some literally starving and exercising themselves to death. Eating disorders are becoming an epidemic, especially among our most promising young women. These women and girls, whom we admire and adore, feel a deep sense of inadequacy and ineffectiveness. Anorexia nervosa is a confusing, complex disease that many people know too little about.
There is no blame in anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is not an indication that parents have gone wrong in raising their children. Cultural, genetic and personality factors interact with life events to initiate and maintain eating disorders.
Anorexia is not fun. Many people who strive to lose weight state, “I wish I were anorexic.” They fail to recognize the wretchedness of the disease. Anorexia is not about feeling thin, proud and beautiful; if you take the time to listen to an anorexic you will hear that they feel fat, unattractive and inadequate. They are scared and trapped.
Anorexia is not something sufferers can just “snap out of.” Anorexics’ minds are not their own; they are possessed by thoughts of weight, body image, food and calories. Many sufferers are not even free of the disease in their sleep, troubled by dreams of food, eating and exercise. Anorexia is an awful, lonely experience that often takes years to conquer.
Anorexia is hard on everyone involved. Living with someone with anorexia nervosa can be exasperating and confusing. To those who do not understand the complexity of the disorder, the sufferer’s behavior seems selfish and manipulative. It is often hard to remember that eating disorders are a manifestation of profound unhappiness and distress.
Anorexia can be deadly. It has one of the highest fatality rates of any mental illness. If you or someone you know shows the signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, take action, get educated and seek help.
Toby D Goldsmith, MD
Eating Disorders are now epidemic in the United States. Approximately 11 million women and girls struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Although the average age of onset is 14, girls are being diagnosed as young as 8.
In years past, an eating disorder stereotype existed. This person was female, white, usually first-born or an only child, a high achiever and from an affluent family. That stereotype is long gone. Today, anorexia and bulimia are equal-opportunity disorders. They flourish in every culture, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic group, and religion throughout our country. And, whereas eating disorders were once exclusively a female issue, this is no longer the case. Anorexia and bulimia are also on the rise in the male population.
In other words, no individual is exempt and no family is immune. The following is designed to provide parents with the information required to understand eating disorders and help prevent one from occurring in their home.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses, not unlike depression or anxiety. Those with an eating disorder use food in an unhealthy manner to cope with unpleasant emotions or difficult life situations. Anorexia and bulimia are two of the most common and dangerous of these disorders.
Anorexia is defined by self-starvation. Those with this illness intentionally starve themselves to dangerously thin levels, at least 15 percent below what would be considered a normal weight. Anorexia is an addictive behavior. It is often accompanied by body distortion. This means the one practicing the behavior literally does not see what everyone else does. Regardless of how emaciated she becomes, she still sees an overweight girl in the mirror.
Bulimia is an extremely complex disorder that is difficult for most people to understand. It rarely occurs in very young children. It is far more likely to manifest in adolescents. When a girl has bulimia, she uncontrollably binges on large amounts of food and then purges through vomiting, starving, excessive exercise, laxatives, or other methods. This behavior also has addictive qualities. An individual with bulimia may purge more than 20 times a day.
Eating Disorders Contributing Factors and Warning Signs
What causes an eating disorder is highly individualized; it is rarely the result of one isolated event or life situation. Certain factors can contribute to the onset of an eating disorder in a child or adolescent girl. These include genetics; peer pressure; dieting; trauma; media influence; life transitions; athletics and perfectionism.
The most obvious sign of anorexia is extreme and rapid weight loss. These girls often diet obsessively, focus inordinate interest on calories, carbohydrates and fat grams, complain about being fat and display an extreme preoccupation with food. A girl with anorexia will never admit to being hungry, even though she is starving.
The key warning sign for bulimia is leaving quickly after meals and spending a long time in the bathroom. Visible indications of bulimia are scrapes on the fingers or hands, swollen glands in the neck or possibly broken blood vessels in the eyes. It is not unusual for a young person with bulimia to steal food from the family or a grocery store.
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Body image is how a person sees herself. It is rarely based on reality, but is far more defined by the culture in which she lives.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that places an absurdly high value on physical perfection and beauty. This obsession with perfection is most evident in the American media. Beautiful females are showcased everywhere, especially in magazines to promote any number of products. Often these photos have been altered or undergone a tremendous amount of computer manipulation to achieve perfection. The problem is, the girls scrutinizing these models believe they are real – that what they see is how that model actually looks.
By definition, adolescent girls are very self-conscious and body focused. When they compare themselves to these “perfect” females, they inevitably fall short. Their self-esteem takes a profound hit. They experience extreme body dissatisfaction. These girls can’t immediately grow taller or change their cheekbones, but they can lose weight. They start dieting. This is an eating disorder waiting to happen.
Parents and Eating Disorder Prevention
Although children are influenced everyday by many external factors, parents can play an important role in the prevention of eating disorders. Throughout a child’s life, food should never be used as a reward or punishment. Healthy, balanced eating should be modeled in the home. Exercise should be done for fun and health, not weight loss.
Mothers need to recognize the profound impact their own behavior has on their daughters. A mother who is always on a diet, obsessed with calories and fat grams, constantly weighing herself and focusing on clothing sizes, will encourage similar behaviors in her daughter.
Similarly, a father plays a vital role in the development of a daughter’s values and self-esteem. Although all parents are encouraged to avoid excessively complimenting or praising a child on her appearance, this is particularly critical where the father is concerned. While a girl is young, her primary male role model is her father. It is important for her to see that her value to him is not predicated exclusively on how she looks, or she is at risk for taking this same belief system and applying it to all men in adulthood.
Parental focus should be placed on a daughter’s unique talents or achievement in areas such as academics or athletics. Most important, every child should be highly reinforced for excellent qualities such as kindness, compassion or generosity.
Every day, girls experience peer pressure and are exposed to a host of negative media messages. That’s why it is so important to combat these issues through positive communication in the home. Parents need to talk about what truly has value in the real world and what does not. Value is found in the content of an individual’s heart and character, never the numbers on a scale. Further, when an eating disorder is indicated, early intervention by a specialized eating disorder treatment team is essential.
Due to the genetic component of eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia will probably always exist. However, through a great deal of love, support and open communication, parents can help their children develop a healthy relationship with food, combat the societal pressure to be thin, as well as maintain a strong self esteem and body image.
One of the most difficult parts of recovery is quieting the eating disorder voice and hearing your own voice again.
Most of us can understand feeling anxious around food and not being good enough or thin enough (thanks to our society and its dangerous diet mentality). But the voice of an eating disorder is nastier, relentless and seems omnipotent. It hurls insults and uses fear tactics. Sometimes, every hour on the hour. People who suffer from eating disorders typically report hearing a cruel and demeaning voice — one that says they aren’t good enough, should stop eating, must lose weight and must engage in eating-disordered behaviors.
It’s very important to realize that a person is separate from their illness. For many people with eating disorders, it’s especially hard to separate their identity from the illness.
“It wasn’t simply that I chose not to eat; I was forbidden to. Even thinking about forbidden foods brought punishment. How dare you, this voice inside me would say. You greedy pig.”- annonymus former anorexic
The voice is overwhelming and feels unstoppable. But people with eating disorders can — and do — take back the power. Not engaging in eating disorder symptoms, and nourishing one’s body with food forces the voice to dissipate.
And here’s another myth: People can’t fully recover from an eating disorder.
As expert Julie Holland from The Eating Recovery Center said:
“Recovery takes commitment, dedication, hard work and time. However, full recovery is absolutely possible through finding the appropriate treatment professionals and program.”
If you have an eating disorder, remember that you are not alone in your struggle and you have the strength to recover. You deserve to seek treatment and get better. What are signs of anorexia?
Someone with anorexia may look very thin. She or he may use extreme measures to lose weight by:
Making her or himself throw up
Taking pills to urinate or have a bowel movement
Taking diet pills
Not eating or eating very little
Exercising a lot, even in bad weather or when hurt or tired
Weighing food and counting calories
Eating very small amounts of only certain foods
Moving food around the plate instead of eating it
www.nowfoundation.org says this:
Complications from eating disorders:
Complications from starvation and severe dieting:
Amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle)
Electrolyte imbalances, which lead to fatigue, diminished reflexes, kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, death
Cognitive impairment (i.e. clouded or distorted perception or thinking, difficulty concentrating, difficulty comprehending)
Dangerously low heartbeat and blood pressure
Severe abdominal pain
Sustained starvation can even lead to death
Complications from purging methods:
Vomiting: electrolyte imbalance that can lead to cardiac arrest and death; abdominal cramping; anemia; dehydration; headaches; tooth decay; tears in esophagus; chronic sore throat; difficulty swallowing
Diuretic Abuse: electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, muscle weakness or cramping, headaches, fatigue
Laxative Abuse: electrolyte imbalance, constipation, dehydration, muscle weakness or cramping, headaches, fatigue
Complications from compulsive overeating:
I am begging you to please step up and tell SOMEONE if you feel as if you have a disorder or are on the verge of one.
Let someone help, before you self-destruct. PALEEEZ!!!!!!!