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An eating disorder is a way of using food to work out emotional problems

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 today’s 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 England’s 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 women’s expectations, such as to remain home after childhood. Their only job was to get married and enhance the family’s 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 person’s 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.

Works Cited

Claypool, Jane. Food Trips and Traps; Coping With Eating Disorders. Watts, 1983.

Dobie, Michael. "Losing Weight, Losing Lives." Newsday, 28 December 1982, SIRS Researcher CD-ROM.

Epstein, Rachel. Eating Habits and Disorders. Philadelphia, Chelsea house, 1990.

Kolodny, Nancy J. When Food’s a Foe; How to Confront and Conquer Eating Disorders. Little Brown, 1987.

Mathews, John R. Little Brown, 1987.

Mathews, John R. Eating Disorders: Facts on File. 1991

"Recognizing Eating Disorders." Current Health 2, Highland Park, December 2000, Vol. 27, Issue 4. 24 January 2001:

Samz, Jane. Drugs and Diet. Chelsea House, 1988.

Silverson, Alvin. So You Think You’re Fat? All About Obesity, Anorexia, Bulimia, and other Eating Disorders. New York, 1993.

"What Are Eating Disorders?" March 1999, 25 January 2001.

Worsnop, Richard I. Eating Disorders, CQ Researcher, Vol. 2, Issue 47; 1097-1120. Washington D.C., Congressional Quarterly Inc., 18 December 1992.

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