The Horrors Behind Eating Disorders: An Overwhelming Force on Adolescents

March 24, 2009
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According to nationaleatingdisorders.org about 11 million people are inflicted with eating disorders in America. We all hear about how the media is drastically transforming lives, and the statistics prove that. The media gives a view of what an idealistic woman should look like, and that pressures many girls. However, what exactly are eating disorders: their types, symptoms, causes, effects, and treatments? According to www.healthyplace.com, 50% of 8th grade girls have already been on a diet, and 10% have had self- induced vomiting. In a global effort, this problem needs to be stopped, for it’s negatively impacting so many.

Roughly, there are three basic types of eating disorders. These are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge/ compulsive eating disorder. According to www.something-fishy.org, anorexia is when girls starve themselves to be thin. They refuse to believe that they are below the average weight, and they have an intense fear of being fat. They are often obsessed with food, such as cutting it into tiny pieces. For anorexic men and women there are two different types of the disorder: the restricting type and the binge eating or purging type. Binge eating is eating more then the usual amount, to a point where it’s uncomfortable. In the binge eating or purging type, people engage in binge eating or purging behavior, while in the restricting type they don’t.

Bulimia nervosa, as said by www.something-fishy.org, is when people have repetitive episodes of binge eating in short amounts of time. They feel out of control, almost like they can’t stop. They have self- induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and enemas. Sometimes they fast or undergo constant exercise after eating. Once again, there are also two types: the purging and non-purging type. As suggested, they both include those who binge, but the purging type includes vomiting and misuse of medication while the other doesn’t. They just partake in fasting and exercise.

Finally, the last eating disorder is binge/ compulsive eating disorder. This is when a person eats until the point of self- hatred and shame. They feel out of control, but they don’t vomit or use medicine. However, not everyone is so clearly diagnosed; sometimes there are mixes of eating disorders just in one person. The truths behind eating disorders are more complex than the average person believes.

Well, what causes people to put their life at risk like this? The misconception is that those people are doing it for attention. Not at all, for some of their causes are overwhelming personal problems, media’s effect, and peer pressure. Some say it’s also genetic, but that’s not always the case. Many of those with anorexia and bulimia say that they have financial, relationship, family, or career problems. People with Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder, perfectionist qualities, or high stress levels are prone to eating disorders, as well as dancers, athletes, models, and actresses, because their body weights determine their success in their careers. Men and women of any age can get eating disorders. Astonishingly, in a study conducted at Montclair Kimberley Academy (a private school in northern New Jersey), 80% of chosen 8th grade students believe that anorexia is for women. However, nationaleatingdisorders.org does point out that there has been an increase in the number of anorexic women from ages 15-19 since 1930. Anorexics and bulimics believe that they should control at least one thing in their life, why not how much they eat? As Dr. Melissa Katz, specialist in eating disorders, says, “They have difficulty voicing emotions, history of being teased about one’s weight, or possibly a history of sexual or physical abuse.” According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, 42% of 1st- 3rd grade girls want to be thinner, and 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. 25% of first graders admit to having dieted. This is particularly awful, because of how young these girls are. They should be having fun and playing, instead of worrying about how they look. Even worse is that it’s all in vain; 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years. The media shows models and actresses with gorgeous hair, long lashes, an over- sized bust, and a waist made for a six year old. People with eating disorders are, as Dr. Katz states, “Buying into our culture’s obsession with thinness and valuing people on the basis of physical appearance…not on inner qualities”. Girls are seeing women as sexual objects in magazines or on TV everyday. They show unattainable beauty before brains. According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, models are skinnier than 98% of women. Girls can’t help but look at that and compare themselves. Even at an early age, girls are affected. “I remember seeing a Britney Spears music video for the first time,” Michelle Smith* reflects, “and after I gazed at myself in the mirror and decided I needed to diet.”

Plus, peer pressure makes girls have eating disorders. In a survey conducted at Montclair Kimberley Academy, 27% of chosen 8th grade students answer that peer pressure has always changed the way they look and how they feel about theirselves. Girls, even as young as the elementary school age, make rude comments on other girls’ hair, clothes, and bodies. As girls grow older they becomes aware of what an ideal girl should look like, and the relentless, offensive comments only make it worse. “I remember once,” declares Michelle Smith, “a girl said that I should wear a Band- Aid instead of a bra. I was crushed, so the next day I came to school with my bra stuffed.” The onset of sniping and gossiping goes too far, especially when it comes to a girl’s body. Girls look in the mirror and don’t see an athletic, smart, beautiful girl staring back. Instead they see a fat girl. With personal problems driving many to control their weight, media’s negative impact, and the “mean girls”, there’s no wonder why girls feel insecure.

Once a girl starts to starve herself, there’s no turning back. There are many effects of eating disorders, physically, behaviorally, and mentally. According, to www.helpguide.org, girls can become lonely, depressed, have suicidal thoughts, chronic pain/ fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety disorders. Plus, effects like dehydration, palpitations, dizziness, migraines, constipation, and mood swings may occur. They can have poor circulation, dry and yellow skin, thin hair, and a very weak immunity system. For the bulimic they can have arthritis, diabetes, seizures, and paralysis. They can also have gastric rupture, lung collapse, throat bruising, and anemia. For binge eating there are risks afterwards such as a heart attack, high blood- pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease/ failure, and bone deterioration. For all people inflicted with eating disorders, they have low self- esteem, confidence, and addictions to junk food. A misconception is that anorexics don’t even eat candy. That’s not true at all. They usually spend tons of money on sweet and sour candy. In fact, anorexics hide food, and bulimics puke wherever they go. Parents are usually shocked to find puke in Zip-loc bags and the showers. In a survey conducted at Montclair Kimberley Academy, 80% of chosen 8th grade students believe that eating “cures” anorexia. However, there’s so much more than just eating. Once you get in, it’s difficult to get out.

So how can we help? This seems like a completely hopeless situation, but in reality it’s not. There are many ways to treat eating disorders. First, when someone begins to realize that they have an eating disorder, they should tell someone right away. Whether that’s a friend, parent, legal guardian, teacher, coach, or whoever, it’s very important.

Secondly, they should have their family help them. According to www.healthyplace.com, parents are so afraid that their children are going to face problems such as eating disorders, sexual intercourse, and drug/ alcohol/ smoking addictions that they don’t want to even get involved or talk to their children. They don’t want their children to think that they’re controlling them and invading their privacy. However, the whole family needs to get involved.

Thirdly, they should talk to medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, therapists, physicians, nutritionists, social workers, and psychologists. If the problem were to get extremely severe, then inpatient care is required, for either physical or behavioral problems. However, as Dr. Katz tells, “There is hope that the eating disordered individual will be fully cured and in the process will develop a more solid sense of self and a healthier relationship with food and others.”

Over all, eating disorders are illnesses that are in desperate need of research, funding, and publicity. In order to protect young girls from the horrors of eating disorders, much must be done. So, what can those without eating disorders do? Spread the word, and hopefully a few lives will be saved.
*Name has been altered for privacy





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