Eating disorders research paper
Eating disorders are sweeping this country and are rampant on
junior high, high school, and college campuses. These disorders are often
referred to as the Deadly Diet, but are often known by their more popular
names: anorexia or bulimia. They affect more than 20% of females between
the age of thirteen and forty. It is very rare for a young female not to
know of someone with an eating disorder. Statistics show that at least one
in five young women have a serious problem with eating and weight (Bruch,
The Deadly Diet appears to be a mostly female problem. Eating
disorders are most common in the middle to upper middle class families.
Currently, the incidence is much lower in females from the "blue
collar" families. The Deadly Diet can begin anywhere from the ages of
ten to thirty. The peak age for the beginning of the Deadly Diet in females
is eleven to fifteen; the peak for males is between fifteen and eighteen
Most of the information on the Deadly Diet says that it is a
problem of teenage girls, but as clinics have found, most of the people who
come to get therapy are in their twenties and thirties. This may be because
younger people are less likely to seek professional help. Most often it is
the parent who brings the patient for help. Adults who have left home and
had to deal with managing their lives usually tend to realize more clearly
the need to seek help and make changes.
Everywhere one looks today, one will notice that our culture
places a very high value on women being thin. Many will argue that today's
fashion models have "filled out" compared to the times past;
however the evidence of this is really hard to see. Our society admires men
for what they accomplish and what they achieve. Women are usually evaluated
by and accepted for how they look, regardless of what they do. A woman can
be incredibly successful and still find that her beauty or lack of it will
have more to do with her acceptance than what she is able to accomplish.
"From the time they are tiny children, most females are taught that
beauty is the supreme objective in life" (Claude-Pierre, p18). The
peer pressure for girls in school to be skinny is often far greater than
for boys to make a team. When it is spring, young girls begin thinking
"How am I going to look in my bathing suit? I better take off a few
Another reason that females are more prone to have this
problem than males is that the personality characteristics underlying
eating disorders are usually found in women. These characteristics are
passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter.
The Deadly Diet almost always starts off quite innocently as a
normal diet. As the person takes off weight, she is praised and
congratulated for having so much willpower. When the weight is taken off
(which is sometimes surprisingly quick), the person begins to think that
maybe a few more pounds would be good insurance. Unfortunately, there is
never enough "insurance." The pounds continue to slip away, and
the person is caught in the unrelenting grip of the Deadly Diet.
>From this point on, the Deadly Diet is very different from
the average diet. The average dieter may spend time thinking of weight and
food, but with the Deadly Diet these thoughts are obsessive. Some people
believe that it would be better to be anorexic, so they wouldn't have to
think about food or weight, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The Deadly Dieter thinks constantly of food. It is the first thing she
thinks about when she wakes up in the morning and the last thing she thinks
about when she goes to bed at night. The time between is continually filled
with thoughts about food, calories, and weight.
The major difference between the regular dieter and the Deadly
Dieter has to do with the issue of control. It is not, as some
professionals have stated, that the Deadly Dieter is too much in control
and needs to learn to let go. The Deadly Dieter is totally out of control.
Even the "perfect" diet, itself, is out of control. The regular
dieter is in control of the diet. The Deadly Dieter is controlled by the
There are five basic types of Deadly Dieter. Although there
are probably as many variations of these basic types as there are people in
the world, all eating disorders fall into one of the Deadly Diets.
Fasting. This type of Deadly Dieter will often try to exist on
only 500 calories per day, even though most nutritionists claim that a
starvation diet is no lower than about 1200 calories a day. This person can
get so upset over any "extra" calories that they begin to see
calories where there are virtually none. For example, some Deadly Dieters
are afraid to chew one piece of gum for fear they would take in too many
Binging. People who just binge, and consequently are obese,
can also be called Deadly Dieters. They, too, are out of control. Their
"diet" is constantly on their minds. It begins to kill them (not
only in terms of their health, but socially and personally).
Binging-Purging. These people often begin their Deadly Diet as
fasters. They soon learn that fasting also cuts them off from most social
functions. In our society it is rare when people get together and don't
have some type of food available. The solution to "being thin"
and yet being able to eat is to get rid of the food they have eaten. The
most common form of purging is vomiting. A much less common method is the
overuse of laxatives.
Fasting-Purging. This form of the Deadly Diet combines the
worst of two other categories. The binge-purge individual may at least get
some nutrition into her body and might even maintain a normal weight. The
faster-purger will throw up her food or take laxatives even while only
allowing 500 calories into her body a day. This devastating combination is
what most often kills the Deadly Dieter.
Fasting-Binging. This is the most frustrating category,
because the person will often go on a "normal" diet for as long
as six months. After staying at a reasonable weight for a period of time,
she will go on a binge, which can last another six months. During this time
she will put on as much as 100 pounds. Most people involved in this
person's life insist that she has the "willpower" to eat
properly. Unfortunately, this attitude only confuses the issues. The person
has the same problem with eating and weight as the other four types of
Deadly Dieter-it just looks different on the outside.
The mental health community has defined two of the five types
of Deadly Diet: anorexia and bulimia. "The official definition of anorexia
consists of five components:
1. An intense fear of becoming obese, which does not diminish
as weight loss progresses
2. Disturbance of body image, or claiming to "feel
fat" even when emaciated
3. Weight loss of at least twenty-five percent of original
4. Refusal to maintain body weight over a normal weight for
age and height
5. No known physical illness that would account for the weight
The official definition of bulimia is also composed of five
1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating
2. Awareness that the eating pattern is abnormal and fear of
not being able to stop eating voluntarily
3. Depressed mood and self-deprecating thoughts following
4. The bulimic episodes are not due to anorexia or any other
known physical disorder
5. At least three of the following conditions: (a) consumption
of high caloric, easily digested food during a binge; (b) inconspicuous
eating during a binge; (c) termination of such episodes by abdominal pain,
sleep, social interruption, or self induced vomiting; (d) repeated attempts
to lose weight by severely restricted diets, self-induced vomiting, or use
of cathartics or diuretics; (e) frequent weight fluctuations greater than
ten pounds due to alternating binges and fasts" (Simpson, p64)
In addition to the symptoms above, anorexia and bulimia can
also be accompanied by medical side effects. For anorexia, some of these
symptoms may include feeling cold even in hot weather, fatigue and lack of
energy, loss of menstruation, skin problems, inability to sweat,
chilblains, swelling in the face, dehydration, and even gangrene of the
Some of the physical symptoms associated with bulimia include
sweating, breathlessness, rapid heartbeat, hot flashes, rotten teeth,
digestive disorders, malnourishment, anemia, infected glands, blisters in
the throat, internal bleeding, icy hands and feet, ruptured stomach or
esophagus, kidney failure and many of the symptoms associated with anorexia
The most dangerous physical result of any form of the Deadly
Diet is the potential for an electrolyte imbalance. This is often
discovered as a low potassium level. Low potassium is one of the most
common causes of nocturnal cardiac arrest, and many of the deaths associated
with the Deadly Diet are the result of cardiac arrest. There are also
mental and emotional effects that can be caused by the Deadly Diet, such as
social isolation, fear, generalized anxiety, loneliness, and low
Deadly Dieters can be helped. The first step to recovery is to
actually admit there is a problem. Once this giant step has been taken it
is downhill from then on. There are several different ways to treat these
disorders, but most doctors agree that therapy is the best. Deadly Dieters need
unconditional love, understanding, and support from their families
throughout the whole ordeal.
About 95% of all Deadly Dieters are women, but it is difficult
to say how many people suffer from this. (Ardell, 76) Statistics may not
truly reflect the total numbers because many Deadly Dieters are generally
secretive about their behavior. One source noted that between 25-33% of all
female college freshman use vomiting to control their weight. (Hall, 57)
Another source reported percentages of college women that range from 4.5 to
almost 20%, high school girls of 8.4%, and more random selection of women
between the ages of thirteen and twenty with a total of 17.7%. (Trum, 2)
Although most studies show that women are more likely to have
eating disorders than men, our society is evolving. Men can act more
sensitively. "We are finally a more humanistic culture rather than a
culture of warriors." (Claude-Pierre, p.70) Eating disorders among men
are on the rise-at least one million men number among the eight million
people who suffer from them in the United States. The Deadly Diet affects
many people, but it can be cured.
Ardell, Maureen and Corry-Ann Ardell. Portrait of an Anorexic;
A Mother Daughter's Story. Vancouver, B.C., Canada: Flight Press, 1985.
Bauer, Barbara G. Ph.D., Wayne Anderson, Ph.D., and Robert W.
Hyatt, M.D. Bulimia, Book for Therapist and Client. Indianapolis:
Accelerated Development Inc., 1986.
Bruch, Hilde M.D. The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia
Nervosa. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Claude-Pierre. The Secret Language of Eating Disorders. New
York: Random House, 1997.
Hall, Lindsey and Leigh Cohn. Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery.
San Francisco: Guize Books, 1986.
Simpson, Carolyn. Coping with Compulsive Eating. New York:
Rosen Publishing Group, 1997.
Trum, Beatrice. "Bulimia." Homer's Consumer's
Research Magazine. September 1997: p.10.