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Why must one depict them self as worthless when society beholds that individual as a flawless human being? Throughout life, many people strive for this “unquenchable need to please others” that we often refer to as perfectionism (Rumney 7). They begin to embody the external image of who they want to be, and not who they truly are. Not one single person achieves this goal better than an individual affected by anorexia nervosa. They will strive for perfection in every aspect of their life, even if the consequence is life-threatening.
According to Trish Gura, approximately 40 percent of the newly reported cases are young girls ages 15 to 19 (60-67). Most statistics will only incorporate women, because 90 percent of anorexic people are of that gender (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part I”). The disorder has been classified as a “golden girl’s illness” since the 19th century. Religious and cultural traditions lead scientists to direct this morbid act more towards white middle and upper-class women (Mankiller). With all of this in mind, what exactly causes anorexia nervosa? What are the effects and exactly how are they treated?
Although there are many theories on what the initial source of this horrific disorder is, no one theory has been singled out to be the main cause. The media and its false advertisements is often a widely disputed topic. Since the 1960s, the media has promoted a “drop-dead” body size (Mankiller). Industries such as pornography give the wrong impression of women and how they should appear.
For this specific topic, television can accept the blame. Advertisements show appealing messages that most adolescents respond to. Some teens even believe that the only key to happiness is by perfecting the thin bodies promoted on television. According to Barbara Moe, nearly 90 percent of people on television are thin or average body built (21). Without thinking, we often respond to these appealing messages. Unaware people, not only young, are beginning to believe what they hear and see on television. The media transmits a message that being skinny is what’s right. But are they not one of the main reasons obesity continues to reach an astonishing height? (Moe 19-26).
Another possible cause would be hormone abnormalities. Many scientists theorize a malfunction in the activity of hormones and neurotransmitters that intake and protect the balance between food and energy output. A human being’s nerve pathways control sex, thyroid and adrenal hormones. This often impacts body weight, appetite, mood and response to stress (“Eating Disorders: Part I”).
With girls reaching a maturation stages in their teen years, peer competition becomes an issue. Girls feel the need to be attractive and pleasing. Rejection by a crush can compel an individual to make their self good enough, even if it means reaching to great measures. This is when perfectionism settles in (“Eating Disorder: Part I”).
Finally, the most popularly debated theory is self-punishment. This can arise from a variety of problems—one of which is family matters. For example: if a family were to be going through a divorce, a child would purposely create a personal problem of their own so the family would no longer be focused on theirs. Sexual abuse at an early age can also result in the child becoming anorexic. However, this theory has not yet been proven, although it is still being analyzed closely. Other cases may arise from the absence of a parental unit, or previous family history of the disorder (Rumney 36).
When one becomes anorexic, many horrific effects come into play. First, the anorexic’s external image becomes distorted. It is not possible for one to be considered anorexic until their weight has descends 85 percent below normal, and their fear of gaining weight is agonizing to them. Swollen joints, brittle nails, hair and skin and loss of bone mass are just some of various harmful things that will occur. The individual may not menstruate for three or more months and constipation can become a serious matter. Sexual development can be detained. Internally, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperate can plummet to an extremely low level (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part I”).
In time, denial begins to flow throughout their mind. Forcing someone to admit they have encountered this deadly disorder is without a doubt, the most challenging stage. The individual begins to exercise compulsively and will repeatedly tell the mind that it is not hungry. Since one will wear them self out by exercising, fatigue begins to take place. Their weariness often becomes an excuse for them to lounge and avoid wasting any extra energy to obtain food (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part I”).
As a result, an assortment of diverse feelings will overwhelm them. Often women become serious, obedient, and sensitive before, during or even after they acquire this disorder. They are also inclined to irrational guilt and susceptible to rejection. This can relate to the cases of family matters and peer competition (“Eating Disorders: Part I”). The anorexic may feel she has to please others. If she happens to attain this feeling of satisfaction, a feeling of failure still lingers in her mind. She will continue to believe she has failed on her part to be pleasing (Rumney 16).
In the following quote, Avis Rumney accurately illustrates the anorexic’s quest in life.
…her sense of self-worth is dependant on other’s approval. At the same time, she hides the parts of herself she fears will be rejected. And so the anorexic is caught in a battle she can never win. She seeks love, but feels irrevocably unlovable, and no amount of external attention can eradicate her self loathing. She starves herself to acquire love and approbation, but it is an endless quest… She is driven by the belief that if only she were thinner—better, smarter, more talented—she would be loved. (Rumney 7)
Coupled with the effects of this disorder is treatment. However, there are countless ways to treat it. Psychotherapy is one way in which physicians approach anorexia. They pay close attention to the eating behavior itself, then at the psychological implication that the behavior signifies. By analyzing the root of their problem whether it is family related or personal, a physician can help them to refrain from this and get back into the routine of a normal life (“Treating Eating Disorders”). No single psychotherapeutic protocol has been shown to be successful. Most of the studies done on this type of treatment have proven to be effective only by weight gain (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part II”).
In addition to psychotherapy, many doctors hospitalize a patient with anorexia. This is only a crucial matter if their weight is below 75 percent of normal. Once one is vigilantly supervised, food is gradually introduced again. It must be brought back in with caution to avoid any possible complications. Psychological help is most often a mandatory element. Presenting emotional support during the weight gaining process helps to base self-esteem back into other aspects of life (Lemone and Burke 536-37).
Pursuing this further, doctors will provide the patient with medications that will not help anorexia itself, but the mental side effects of it. This includes depression, anxiety and stress. Anti-depressants can also depress the risk of a relapse in the future. In some cases where the body may be enfeeble, medications will only further harm the body, and thus are not an option. Since some patients still have not overcome the fear of gaining weight back, they refuse to take any type of medication (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part II”).
Lastly, cognitive-behavioral therapy is referred to the most for treating an anorexic. By dissecting the patient’s overview on food and weight, the therapist is then able to outline strategies to conquer the patient’s fear. In these instances, the patients are requested to keep journals of the binge-eating habits. A therapist then constructs a plan to counteract situations such as these (“Treating Eating Disorders”). The main goal in cognitive-behavior is to allow the patient to perceive him or her self in a different point of view (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part II”). Even though no single treatment has been proven to be completely effective, there is still plenty of room for research. By investigating this disorder in different cultures and in different stages, it will become less of a mystery (“Anorexia Nervosa—Part II”).
All in all, anorexia nervosa is a gruesome and dreadful disorder that should not be lightly pushed to the side. Various horrendous symptoms and disorders can accompany anorexia that could possibly be fatal. Already developed treatments have greatly assisted patients of anorexia, but none has cured it completely. Even though there are many theories on what triggers anorexia, researchers are still not capable of singling out one particular cause. Hopefully, future developments in technology can aid researchers in the hopes of finding a remedy to this disorder.
---. “Anorexia Nervosa—Part I.” Harvard Mental Health Letter Feb. 2003: 1-4. SIRS Researcher. SIRS. 29 March 2010.
---. “Anorexia Nervosa—Part II.” Harvard Mental Health Letter March 2003: 5-7. SIRS Researcher. SIRS. 29 March 2010.
---. “Eating Disorders: Part I.” Harvard Mental Health Letters Oct. 1997: 1-5. SIRS Researcher. SIRS. 31 March 2010.
Gura, Trisha. “Wired for ‘Perfection’.” Scientific American Mind Vol. 19, No. 3 June/July 2008: 60-67. SIRS Researcher. SIRS. 31 March 2010.
Lemone, Priscilla and Karen Burke. “The Client With An Eating Disorder.” Medical-Surgical Nursing: Critical Thinking in Client Care. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2004. Print. 536-37.
Mankiller, Wilma and others. “Eating Disorders.” The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History 1 Dec. 1998: n.p. SIRS Researcher. SIRS. 31 March 2010.
Moe, Barbara. “The Media’s Message.” Coping With Eating Disorders. New York: The Rosen Publish Group, 1991. Print. 19-26.
Rumney, Avis. Dying to Please: Anorexia, Treatment and Recovery. United States of America: McFarland, 2009. Print.
---. “Treating Eating Disorders.” Harvard Women’s Health Watch May 1996: 4-5. SIRS Researcher. SIRS. 29 March 2010.