Friday, October 19, 2007

Dying to be thin

Roughly 12 to 25 percent of young women and men are affected by some kind of an eating disorder, according to the artcile, "Anorexia Nervosa: Through the Eyes of a Survivor" from the web site Ninety percent of these victims are female and 10 percent are male. Out of all the mental disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate at 20 percent.

We all worry about our physical appearance. Eighty-nine percent of females worry about their appearance all the time, according to the web site What ever happened to the idea that beauty comes from the inside, not from the outside? If this statement held any truth, then perhaps 89 percent of women wouldn't constantly be worrying about their physical appearance.

Studies show that people turn to anorexia or bulimia as a way of gaining control over their lies. If they can control what they consume, everything else that seems out of control in their lives will become a speck in the sand in comparison. One anorexic from the story, "My monster, My battle" (at the web site said, "I had no control over my life, no control over my grades, I discovered that I could actually control the amount of food that I consumed. In my mind, my crush would like me better. I'd be popular and life would be great. What a surprise, I lost weight all right, but I was losing my life."

Anorexia nervosa is a deadly disorder. It's when a person eliminates as much food as possible from his/her diet. Sufferers may try not to consume anything besides water and some bread or vegetables. They will indulge in diet pills or laxatives. If they are in a situation where they are forced to eat, they will usually cut up their food in small pieces and move their food around the plat so that it appears as though they have eaten most of their meal. Often times, anorexics will eat slowly to make it seem as though they are eating a normal amount of food.

Bulimia is also an eating disorder; in this case, the sufferer binges and purges. According to the articles, "When Thinness Becomes an Obsession," 5 percent of college students suffer from bulimia. A bulimic may binge for up to eight hours, consuming up to 20,000 calories. Other binges may last only up to 90 minutes with the consumption of up to 3,400 calories. In response to these binges, bulimics will purge what they just consumed. They will also indulge in anywhere from 50 to 100 laxatives at a time. Other substances that aid them in their purging processes are diuretics, or ipecac, a chemical substance that induces vomiting.

Eating disorders are generally triggered by an inability to deal with situations that have profound impacts on a person's life. These situations range from puberty, first sexual experiences, being ridiculed about weight, seperation from family members (divorce or college) and death of a loved one.

What kinds of distorted thoughts are consuming these victims? There are about 15 different styles of distorted thinking that can lead to eating disorders. There are also several psychological symptoms and physical signs that can help determine whether someone may need to help. Many bulimics and anorexics socially disconnect themselves from their family and friends. They will often appear depressed and will involve themselves in unusual secretive behavior. Many times persons with eating disorders have low self-esteem and may voice that they are dissatisfied with their bodies; they will almost always seem preoccupied with food or eating.

Anorexics and bulimics may begin to suffer from malnutrition. Physical symptoms of malnutrition are found in the hair, eyes, skin and lips. Hair will often look dry or dull, and may be thinner and sparse. A person's eyes will also have a dull look to them. A lack of vitamins B6 and niacin will cause redness and fissuring of the eyelid corners. A lack of vitamin A often leads to soft corneas and bitot's spots, which look like little flicks in the white part of the eye. An anorexic or bulimic's skin will appear dry and flaky due also to the lack of vitamin A. Their nostrils will often be red and swollen as a result of a lack of niacin. The excessive darkness (hyperpigmentation) is due to the lack of folate and B12, and paleness may result if not enough ascorbic acid is in the system. Even a fine downy hair will grow on the skin's surface and lips will most likely look inflamed or swollen, with angular fissures and scars due to the lack of riboflavin in the diet.

Had enough? This list does not include the tonge, the gums and nails, nor does it include the skeletal changes, the organic changes and the cardiovascular changes that result from severe malnutrition. Anorexics and bulemics lose teeth and suffer from osteoporosis, spinal curvature, ataxia (the loss of muscle coordination), esophagitis (from vomiting too much), bloating, edema (fluid retention), and degenerative myocardial lesions due to the lack of potassium. Sound serious? These are only eight of the 29 disorders that bulimics and anorexics may be faced with, according to the article, "Through the Eyes of a Survivor."

Anorexics and bulimics stop their lives to concentrate on changing their physical appearance. They are consumed with thoughts of doubt and criticism. Their lack of self-esteem and self-confidence and their distorted thinking are contributing factors to the disease. It is the distorted thinking that keeps them in denial about their disorder. The "Obsession" article illustrates the level of distortion of some people with eating disorders: An anorexic replies to the question about whether or not she has had breakfast, "Of course I had breakfast; I ate my Cheerio."

Since denial is one of the most common responses to an eating disorder, it is important for friends and family know where they can seek help. And since people suffering from an eating disorder are stuck in a power struggle, they often find themselves angry if anyone tries to help them. Experts say the best way to approach someone with an eating disorder is to express your concern and suggest avenues of help. It is extremely important that you support them and try not to take their issues into your own hands. Making an anorexic or bulimic feel guilty or stupid will only push them away. This may lead them to be more isolated and socially withdrawn than before you expressed your concern, according to the Eating Disorders web site. Don't offer simple answers. Statements such as, "Can't you see what you are doing? You have to stop this and stop it now!" or "Just start eating like a normal person" will only drive them further away.

Getting help for victims with eating disorders is difficult. Strongly focusing on expressing love and compassion, listening to them, supporting them by learning about their eating disorders and talking to them about their issues other than their power struggle over food will point them in the right direction to get help for their disease.

Discussion questions: Why do young girls feel pressured to lose weight? Who is to blame? Is it society? Hollywood?

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