" When she was fourteen, a modeling agency said that her face was two fat. It was a death sentence." (Toronto Sun, 1994)
Sheena Carpenter died in November 1993. She was found on the kitchen floor of her apartment by her mother. She was twenty-two years old. . . and weighed only fifty pounds. Sheena was just one of the alarming numbers of young women who become obsessed with the shape and size of their bodies, and suffer harmful, or in this case, fatal effects from eating disorders. At any given time, almost one out of every two women is on some sort of a diet, and this statistic is apparently reflected the revenues of the diet industry, currently a $33 billion a year industry. It should be noted that this estimate does not include profits generated by exercise or workout programs, gyms, health clubs, or cosmetic surgery.
A recent national survey in the US reveled that the majority of women, when asked what would make them happiest, choose thinness over all other choices, even such thing as job promotion, romance, prestige and power. In fact, more women feared becoming fat, then feared dying. These statistics revel an alarming social problem that is reaching epic proportions.
Although the topic of eating disorders has gained a larger audience within the last decade, the number of cases of eating disorders continues to rise at a resounding rate. Today many scientists are looking into possible causes for the onset of an eating disorder. The most prevalent and influencing factor is the media and society's view. They act as a controlling presence for susceptible individuals. " The socioculture pressure on today's adolescent and young women to be thin and attractive also play an important role in the development of eating disorders. Thinness in today's society is associated with self-control, attractiveness, intelligence, happiness , wealth and success. The media, fashion, and the diet industry exploit this myth by bombarding us with products and services designed to push us towards losing weight. As a result, it is not surprising to find that adolescents who are undergoing uncontrollable body changes and the onset of new emotional and sexual drives seek dieting in order to enhance their sense of self-control and acceptance by others."
Recently it has been discovered that a possible cause for eating disorders is due to an defective hormone. That hormone serotonin, said to activate in response to food, is still a mystery and even though it has some value as a blood clotting factor, but its functions have yet to be totally understood. At the current speed of progress however, it has been said that we should expect definite information as to the cause of an eating disorder in about a decade. Following soon after will be a better form of treatment to help all who have become effected by this dreadful disorder.
Both Anorexia and Bulimia have effects and differences on the body that causes the body to take drastic measures to sustain the life of the individual. (for the sake of brevity and to avoid redundancy the abbreviation ED will be used in pace of eating disorder)
The lack of any digested food to become a useful ingredient to the body has detrimental effects to the body as a whole. With each disorder, Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, you will see how each contributes to this problem.
A variety of changes in thought and perception accompany Anorexia Nervosa. Notable behavioral changes, however, center around food. The individual with anorexia often divides her foods into "good" and "bad" categories. Good foods are hypocaloric which includes fruits and vegetables, while bad foods are hypercaloric, such as carbohydrates and sweets. The hypocaloric foods are eaten while hypercaloric foods are avoided. Mealtimes are usually skipped or small amounts of foods may be eaten, leading to low daily calorie intake levels. To an anorexic, every act of eating may be governed by rules such as cutting the food into small pieces, taking hours to eat, or hoarding food. This person also becomes obsessed with exercise in yet another attempt to lose weight. Physically, the disorder causes the body to slowly deteriorate. Obvious signs to look for are excessive weight loss in a short period of time and continuing dieting of a bone thin person. The body, in its amazing capabilities, begins to protect itself by shutting down non-life sustaining processes. The heart rate and blood pressure slow, very fine hairs called lanugo grow on the body to prevent loss of body heat, and the skin becomes dry and yellow. The master gland, the thyroid, slows, which in turn slows development. Amenorrhea begins, stopping the menstrual cycle in women. Due to nutrient restriction and electrolyte imbalance, the heart and kidneys become severely damaged and the brain may even shrink causing drastic personality changes.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by frequent binge eating, which is followed by some form of compensative behavior, whether it be self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or compulsive exercise. Unlike anorexics who are usually in a state of self denial, bulimics are fully aware of their illness and consciously try to hide it from others. This deception allows the bulimic to carry on for many years without anyone ever knowing. However, the hunger sensation is overwhelmingly strong and the individual gives in, devouring large amounts of food each time. Then guilt and compensatory behaviors follow, such as vomiting or laxative use. Because bulimics only lose the food they've just eaten, they do not drastically lose weight, but fluctuate instead. The body still tries to preserve life and discontinues non-life sustaining processes as well. Many experience signs common to an anorexic such as obsessive exercise, which could led to heavy involvement in sports. Loss of menstrual periods, and feeling fat are also common signs of bulimia. Bulimics still eat but purging starves their bodies of much needed nutrients. This action can lead to heart and kidney damage due to lack of potassium. Purging can also cause the stomach wall
and esophagus to rupture, as well as tooth decay due to the acidity of the stomach.
ED's have their similarities and differences as can be shown, but inside the body the both cause virtually the same chemical responses.
Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa are two disorders unlike any other disorder, sickness, or disease. The eating disorders such as these two strike in a vulnerable division in the body. The body is sustained by the food we eat and the liquids we drink, take those away or out of their homeostatic state and the body suffers greatly. Although the body is amazing in its capabilities to deal with life functions and changes within, without the proper nutrients, the body is unable to do its job. This is why the disorder is so terrible. The body is unable and incapable without this food to repair itself, provide the means for organs to work, or to sustain life processes. With the limitation of food intake, mineral levels fall towards dangerous levels. As a result vitamins don not work and then food can't be digested and a whole cascade of dangerous effects follow.
Minerals are used in the body not a source of food but rather as a aid to other body nutrients. They increase the ability of a nutrient to function and strengthen its effectiveness.
With the decrease in food and energy from food, a fluid electrolyte disorder called hyponatremia develops where there is not enough sodium in the body. Made worse by laxatives (diuretics) and excessive sweating through the compulsive exercise, low sodium levels trigger the adrenal cortex to release aldosterone, targeting the kidney tubules. When stimulated, the kidneys raise the absorption rate of Na+ in the proximal convoluted tubules and the loops of Henle. It is important to understand that while the sodium content of the body may change, its concentration in the extracellular fluid remains stabile because of adjustments in water volume. Hyponatremia, when not corrected, causes a neurologic dysfunction due to brain swelling, systemic edemia, decreased water loss which leads to decreased blood pressure and volume, as well as cardiac arrhythmia and circulatory shock. Physical signs of this electrolyte disorder are headaches, muscle cramps, thirst, lethargy, and weakness. Relating very closely to sodium's role in the body is that of potassium.
"Potassium, the chief intracellular cation, is required for normal neuromuscular functioning, as well as for several essential metabolic activities, including protein synthesis." Although potassium can be toxic at high levels, eating disorders cause the level of potassium to fall dramatically lower than normal causing the same drastic effects. A deficit of potassium can cause hyperpolarization and nonresponsiveness of the neurons controlling our body, a condition called hypokalemia. The heart, being the most sensitive to K+, may develop cardiac arrhythmia and possible arrest also. Muscular weaknesses, alkalosis of the blood, and hypovenilation may accompany low levels of potassium.
The effects of hyponatremia and hypokalemia may not be prevalent at the onset of an eating disorder and may not even show up for quite some time due to the low levels of other chemicals that hinder, compensate, or account for the difference. For example, not enough magnesium (hypomagnesemia) can cause tremors and increase neuromuscular excitability. A lack of phosphorus causes a condition known as rickets, when the epiphyseal plates in young growing children continue to widen and become enlarged. Even a lack in trace minerals like Iron and Iodine can cause an inability to maintain body temperature and hypothyroidism, respectively.
Vitamins are essential for the life-sustaining process in the body to be carried out. Vitamins in the body act as a coenzyme. They act in junction with other specific enzymes allowing them to function. Without the assistance of vitamins, all of the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins would not be able to be broken down and digested and used for energy.
Most vitamins are not made in the body and therefore most come from our diet, and since no one food contains all of the essential vitamins need for the body, a balanced diet is necessary. The deficiency of vitamins in the body is primarily what causes the effects that are visible in an ED patient. Vitamin A deficiencies cause night blindness (controls pigmentation of rods and cones) and the drying of the epidermis of the skin. Shown in the dry eyes and chapped lips, coarse hair, and the drying eye conjunctiva and yellowing skin. Lack of vitamin D causes problems in the skeleton leading to brittleness and easy breakage of bones. Vitamin K that adds to blood coagulation will cause an increase of clotting time and bruising. Those are to name the effects of low fat-soluble vitamin. The water-soluble vitamins effect the body in yet another way. Vitamin C, labels by many as the "health vitamin", is an antioxidant, meaning that it is used to repair the body of damage from free oxygen radicals. Low levels therefore, let damaged tissue to go unrepaired. Other common problems are an inability to form the intercellular "cement", joint pains, bone growth problems, increased susceptibility to infection, and further weight loss.
As the vitamin level dwindles, the body becomes less able to properly digest food into energy. Carbohydrate, lipids, and proteins that due come into the body, can't be broken down properly. The body continually needs energy for basel and regular metabolic rates. When the food intake no longer provides that necessity, the body begins to break down its own resources of stored energy.
First to be broken down, is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates consist of sugars and is the easiest obtainable and best used energy source. The complex and simple sugars are broken down directly into glucose. Carbohydrates are burned at a fast rate and since the body doesn't store a lot of it the body next turns upon the lipid or fat reserves.
A large portion of energy is storied in fat however it takes more energy to turn it to a useful substance. As the body breaks down itself, the loss of insulating fat causes loss of body heat and an increased metabolic rate. As stored fats become depleted and the body has to due work to keep itself together, next the proteins become targeted.
Most proteins are located and stored in muscle. The break down of proteins is really the break down of muscle. Protein digestion is the worst form of energy since it takes a lot of energy to get small amounts of energy.
As shown, one thing that may seam minor and minuet can turn into a dangerous situation. Experimentation has proven that the best form of treatment includes the use of anti-depressant drugs. In situation where the patient has become critical the individual is often hospitalized and monitored around the clock with close observation on slow recovery of body chemical. The damages to the body can usually be restored in a relatively short time as compared to the emotional damage that goes on for years. Thankfully most of the physical problems with an eating disorder are caused by malnutrition and go back to normal when normal body weight is restored.