The discussion will be on an eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, that is a huge concern of our society. It is an eating disorder that is caused by a complex mixture of social, psychological and physical problems and consists of various conditions that involve an obsession with food, weight and appearance to the degree where a person’s health, relationships and usual everyday activities are threatened to fail.
The statistics are dramatic. Anorexia has become more common in developing countries in the past 20 years. 50% of Anorexics recover fully, another 20% only recover physically and the reported mortality rate is 20%. Each year, approximately one out of every 200 females adolescents become anorexic. About 90-95% of all people who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa are females. The most vulnerable to this eating disorder are the ambitious, achieving girls between the ages of 12 and 25. However, in industrialized countries, the condition is becoming more prevalent in all age groups and both sexes . The main trait of anorexia is when body weight is more then 15% lower then the expected one. It is caused by fear of gaining weight that embraces excessive preoccupation with food and abnormal eating habits.
Basically, it is an addiction that results in successive changes in mind and body. The progression of these changes follows an orderly and predictable path from health to mental and physical devastation. The addiction that we are talking about is a result of self-starvation process. This means that during that process a group of substances called endorphins is produced by the body that is very addictive. These substances play major role in causing the behavioral and mental changes characteristic to this condition and are responsible for perpetuating and maintaining anorectic behavior throughout all stages of addictive process.
The addiction concept of Anorexia Nervosa is made up of 2 principles: One states that much of the anorexics actions like behavior and thinking are governed by the mechanism of reward. That is a person will self-administer by engaging in such behavior whereas a non-addictive substance will not cause a person to automatically continue self-administration in order to get some pleasant experience. The second is that there is a direct causative relationship between the state of eating and the state of mood and feelings. Which means that non-eating and weight loss promote a sense of well-being or improvement of depressed mood via release of endorphins.
Two types of Anorexia Nervosa are recognized: first is a simple restriction of food. People usually starve themselves despite the hunger pains that they suffer. The second type includes restriction of food and either regular purging or binging and purging together. It is done by means of laxatives, appetite suppressants or even self-induced vomiting.
The distinguishing dietetic trends are consumption of low-fat foods, vegetarianism and avoidance of all the sweet products. Moreover, dramatic reduction in caloric intake takes place that is many times accentuated by a significant increase in activity. Often an aversion to foods is developed. Such eating behavior is a cause of severe lack of macronutrients such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates as well as minerals and vitamins that make it impossible for an organism to maintain itself in good health.
Anorexia Nervosa also falls into a category of mental illnesses because it has been found that this condition is many times accompanied by other mental illness. Common for all the anorexics is that food becomes the main object of their lives and it makes them feel as if it was impossible to live without it. Food becomes a dominant in all the daily regulations and judgments. And unlike other eating disorders suffering from anorexia do not consider their weight loss and restricted eating as problematic and no matter how much they weight, the feeling of being overly fat will not abandon them.
Anorexia Nervosa consists of various stages. First is the Early Loss Phase where a series of physical and mental changes occur as adaptation change to promote survival. Then it is followed by an Advanced Weight Loss Phase. It begins when a person reaches the desired weight but is unable to stop dieting due to the addictive function of endorphins. Brain dependency takes place, judgdements become less perceptive and objective. The third phase is the Burn-out Phase. Here the tolerance can no longer be overcomed by an individual. During this phase an anorectic feels the return of some anxiety and depression because a person finds out that she or he does not cope as well as did in the previous phases. Also because the feeling is worth, the addicted side of the anorectic’s mind makes every effort to lock in a view of herself/himself that is in favor of self-starvation. Just like other addicts, the anorectic has to hit the proverbial bottom before change is truly possible and has a reasonable chance to last. The anorectic has to experience the power of the addiction even without being aware of it. No reasoning or threatening has anywhere near as much effect on the anorectic’s attitude as the painful experience of being consumed by the addiction, only to find out in the end that she has been wreckled by it and has received nothing in return. At this point anorexics may give in to urging of their parents or friends and agree to seek professional help
So what are the main forces that make people loose control over one’s lives? Anorexia Nervosa is a very complex disease and wide variety of reasons underlie it however despite that that most specialists agree that dieting is the basic entry line for entering the disorder.
Anorexics themselves can be divided into two groups: first consist of those that have concerns related to their weight. Under the second group fall those people that have problematic relationship with oneself and others. The disorder is further complicated when braided with the social demand that put great emphasis on appearance and thinness. But generally it is nothing but the outcome of chronically depressed mood and the constitutional inability to maintain an internal equilibrium.
It is known that Anorexia nervosa affects both males and females of different age groups and ethical and racial backgrounds. However some tendencies do appear. Anorexia more often affects women. Men are affected less partly because it is believed that it isn’t suitable for a man that is not a gay to be over concerned with his body. The greater disposition towards Anorexia Nervosa in women can easily be reasoned. It is commonplace that all the women magazines usually have ten times as many advertisements and articles on weight loss as man’s do. This happens because every magazine tries to satisfy the reader’s demand. By doing that they make females bring back thoughts about their weight over and over again. And the main reason for such interest towards dieting is that now more then ever mankind is bombarded by thousands of images of young beautiful and extremely thin models smiling from everywhere: TV-screens, press and publicity boards. This fact is also directly correlated to the increased demand on books and articles describing the diets and exercise strategies of these ideal girls and makes women believe that each one of them can achieve such thinness on a cost of a bit of suffering. Women may also start correlating model’s success to their slim bodies. These thoughts may mislead them into the idea that without it is impossible to achieve the desired success. The models surrounding us (in press, television and other sources) also create strong associations of beautiful as inseparable from thin that is another reason of wanting to achieve these extremely thin shapes.
Anorexia may also result from low self-esteem in attempts to obtain external validation by trying to match unrealistic media image. It is most often expressed in people who are perfectionists, have difficulties in handling stress situations or in those that possess distort body image and are constantly preoccupied with weight, body size and shape.
Anorexia may be triggered from a simple remark of another person towards an individual with low self-confidence. Or the psychological situation might be adversely affected by loss of a loved one. These situations may distort naturally weak psychological balance giving a push towards this eating disorder.
Moreover, correlation has been established between emotional, physical and sexual abuse. And since females are abused more often then males, this fact serves as another reason that explains the higher percentage of cases among women than men.
Another major source of Anorexia Nervosa lies in sports that put great emphasis on weight and appearance. The examples are: gymnastics, bodybuilding, ballet and distance running. In these cases competition stands out as the main engine that generates the eating disorder.
In addition to all the above mentioned, Anorexia nervosa may have age-related origins. When young people during their puberty period experience many natural body changes. They are often perceived as uncontrolled and undesirable and excessive dieting may be seen as a mean of bringing back the control that leads to development Anorexia Nervosa. And on the other extreme when women get older life changes and other problems start triggering the danger of falling into this eating disorder. For most of them it is the stress of middle life such as menopause, conflict about sex and social pressure that demands from women to stay young or otherwise will be displace by a younger rival either in her social or personal life.
Some cases of young people may result from excessive attempt of their parents to control their child’s weight. Usually the expected effect is not achieved, instead that makes teenagers doubt about their appearance and disturb the self-esteem that is often based on the parent’s approval.
At last, few cases have been reported where eating disorders occurred in various generations within a family that suggests us that genetic prepossession does play an important role in occurrence Anorexia Nervosa.
All the above-mentioned factors act on a person making him/her loose control over dieting, that finally result in Anorexia Nervosa. This eating disorder has many adverse consequences as one’s body, psychology and social life. First of all body’s regulatory mechanisms are seriously disturbed. And the longer behavior persists worth are the consequences and harder it is to give up the addiction. Anorexia Nervosa is a disease of malnutrition with severe after-effects. Particularly lack of proteins can cause “cannibalism” of an organism (auto digestion). Osteoporosis is very likely to occur under these circumstances. Insufficient fat intake is the main cause of poor absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. General
effects experienced by anorexics are sensitivity to cold and heat, headaches, fatigue, weakness and fainting. Once it gets to physical complications the heart, the blood pressure, the gastrointestinal system, teeth and gums, lever and kidney can all be affected. Various difficulties with concentration and thinking may also be experienced. Usually anorexics perceive distorted surrounding situation and can not evaluate it well. On the social level the sense of isolation causes families to fall apart, serves as barrier for good schooling, destroys even very promising careers and most relationships. The disorder is often accompanied by amenorrhea or by a decrease in sexual drive and interest in males.
“To recover the anorectics inevitably will have to go through a period of time during which a person will feel more depression and anxiety as he or she gives up the beneficial effect of endorphins by gaining weight” (Huebner 78). But the good thing about this eating disorder is that the process can be reversed by normalizing the intake of nutrients, fluids and caloric intake as well as vitamins and minerals that are all essential for proper body functioning. But in most cases multy-disciplinary approach is required that involve various specialists. Simple medication intake will not help since Anorexia Nervosa is a result of combination of bio-psycho-social factors. Psychotherapists would guide patients and support him/her emotionally. Nutritionists would teach to patient new eating patterns. While other doctors will help in dealing with all the physical complications.
“ Living with someone who suffers from Anorexia Nervosa can be very difficult, as the sufferer’s behavior may seem to be deliberately provocative and selfish “ (Treasure 11). Doctors, friends and relatives all have to be comprehensible, chary and respondent since they all share equally important pat in one’s recovery. Feeling of helplessness on seeing someone acting in such a destructive way and not being able to help, is common among the people that surround anorexics. However instead of giving up they all have to stay positive, provide with financial and emotional support and read a lot of information on the disease. This information will always be useful to these people in order to understand better the suffering person and to be able to convince him or her of the mistakable behavior by providing a person with new hitting facts.
Anorexia nervosa is a very complex disease that can affect almost anyone of us when influenced by certain surrounding us situations. It occurs when someone looses control over dieting and becomes obsessed with food, weight, body size and shape. The main triggering factor is our society that promotes thinness and puts excessive emphasis on appearance. This makes people want to conform to unrealistically thin models and in order to slim down fall on track of starvation. In this process body releases endorphins that cause the addiction. Some will recover fully, some will stay marked forever by Anorexia Nervosa, and others will die. Lets not permit this and stop ourselves, our friend, relative or any other person before it is to late.
1.Huebner, Hans F., M.D. Endorphins, Eating Disorders and Other Addictive Behaviors.
United State of America: Hans Huebner, 1993
2.Treasure, Janet. ANOREXIA NERVOSA:A Survival Guide for Families, Friends, and Sufferers.
Essex: Psychology Press Ltd, 1997
3.Youngson, Dr Robert. Encyclopedia of Family Health.
London: Dr R.M. Youngson, 1995
4.Zimbardo, Philip G., and Gerrig, Richard J. Psychology and Life.
United States: Philip G. Zimbardo, Inc., and Richard J. Gerrig, 1999