The person suffering from an eating disorder puts boundless premium on looking good rather than feeling good or healthy. For such a person, the food loses its sanctity and its real meaning. Experimentation with food intake, in order to achieve abnormal results, plays untold havoc with an individual’s health. Once started, the victim keeps falling into a quagmire of psychological tizzy and loses control over one’s normal eating habits. According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, an estimated eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders, 95 percent of whom are between the ages of 12 and 25. This eating disorder is more common among females because the pressure to look beautiful works much more on them than men. Compulsively driven by a mania to look slim and trim, the victim tends to neglect her health and starves herself beyond limit or eats too less than required.
In some cases, an affected person may indulge in excessive bouts of eating followed by a purging session and a gnawing feeling of guilt. One may also develop a deep aversion to food; thereby distancing oneself from something that sustains life itself. This eating disorder leads to acute depression and one rapidly loses his emotional and physical well being. Some people use food or the control of food, in an attempt to offset or forget certain distressing feelings or emotions that would over-whelm them otherwise.
It is incumbent upon us to sit up and look at the problem of eating disorder as primarily a fall out of wrong social values and policies. This disorder is largely caused by social factors and can only be cured or checked by eliminating those precipitating negative factors in society. The media has created a highly distorted image of a perfect woman who is normally shown to be wafer thin with real skinny looks. While the society looks down upon the obese, it heaps loads of admiration on one losing weight rapidly. This kind of a positive response goads a person to continue with crash dieting. Dr. Maria Felix-Ortiz points out, “Eating disorders require intensive treatment because the behavior and associated weight changes are rewarded by significant others.”Wow, you're losing a lot of weight!" is usually a powerful compliment.”
Among all eating disorders, Anorexia nervosa is the most dangerous and complex eating disorder. Robbed of one’s ability to see things in correct perspective, one severely misinterprets one’s appearance. The fear psychosis is so strong that the person repeatedly subjects herself to self examination and self evaluation. Each round of self query can leave one feeling worse than before as satisfaction with one’s self image practically eludes the victim. That is why, many girls suffering from anorexia weigh as much as 85% or less than what is developmentally expected of their age and height. At such a point, one is not expected to live or survive.
Anorexia has resulted in an alarming number of deaths among girls between 15 to 24 years of age. Anorexia’s mortality rate is 12 times higher than all diseases put together in this age group of girls, in general population. Some sports like athletics, gymnastics and swimming presuppose a perfect body as a prerequisite. This makes athletes equally vulnerable to eating disorders.Daniel Batchelor writes, “As athletes, anorectic can maintain a high performance level, for a time, but also have serious internal problems…. a world-class female runner …. she had no menstrual cycle and experienced frequent episodes of dizziness.”
The symptoms of Anorexia are distinct. The person becomes excessively even abnormally selective about food, obsessively worried about the calorie count and too reluctant to eat or eat at all. The situation further aggravates when one indulges in over exercise which one’s already weakened health can ill afford. The obsession with one’s physical appearance makes one lose sight of real priorities in life. Health, studies, parents, friends and relatives take a back seat. The victim keeps inching towards an avoidable and a highly unfortunate early end.
Due to negative social pressures and a person’s knee-jerk reaction to them, the reality gets blurred and the vision gets distorted. Anorexia makes one hallucinated about one’s weight. One tends to feel over-weight even when one happens to be dangerously under-weight! This grave misconception about one’s own physical image leads to poor self-esteem and intense fear of gaining weight. The person wrecks her energy by tormenting herself through repeated self-evaluation and self-assessment.
It is yet not very clear that what exactly causes this complex phenomenon of eating disorder. Although, it is widely believed that it is a combination of psychological, genetic, social and family factors that contribute to this disorder. Aimee Liu, author of "Gaining: The Truth about Life after Eating Disorders," uses the metaphor of the gun to explain eating disorder. She says, “"Eating disorders are like the explosion of a gun. Genes form the gun and our culture, society, media and family values load it. Experience of unbearable distress and emotions pulls the trigger,” The result is as fatal and dangerous as a gun can be! The role of social and cultural factors in precipitating eating disorder is indisputable. Bulimia nervosa causes symptoms of excessive eating which is also known as binge-eating disorder. Each binge-eating session brings an acute feeling of guilt that gets relieved to some extent through purging.
Self-induced vomiting and misuse of laxatives act as compensatory actions. Sadly, most of these young and adolescent females possess normal weight as per their height and age and yet fail to feel good about it. Their yardstick to measure their well being ceases to be the doctor’s health chart. They gauge their personalities as per the parameters set by much hyped beauty pageants and fashion shows. They try to compete with the hard to match looks of waif thin models with extremely slender bodies.I am convinced that eating disorder is psychological and it is not a mental disease. There is a difference. Psychological problems can be addressed with proper understanding and counseling.
I strongly believe that eating disorder is curable if right steps are taken. The cure doesn’t lie in the realm of medical science. I have a feeling that there is a vested interest in dubbing eating disorder as a mental disease or a genetic problem. By calling it a genetic problem, we shut doors on its otherwise possible cure. There are plenty of doctors who are as callous and money-minded as their counterparts in the fashion or cosmetic industry. They are making huge amounts of money in the name of curing this ‘disease’ through antidepressants and sedatives. The real cure of this disease lies in a much needed corrective on society itself.
The fashion world deliberately parades unrealistically lean and thin female models. These models do not only send out an image of ultimate beauty but also of ultimate success. The present day youth is very career minded and misinterprets these images on various emotional and psychological levels. The innocent adolescent youth forgets that these images are ‘make believe’ and have been deliberately conjured up by an avaricious business world that wants to keep youngsters always on tenterhooks. This is their ultimate guarantee of doing brisk business.
Nanci Hellmich writes, “The promotion of the thin, sexy ideal in our culture has created a situation where the majority of girls and women don't like their bodies," says body-image researcher Sarah Murnen, professor of psychology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.” Americans “pay out of pocket for a $33 billion commercial diet industry--and keep getting fatter”. While the “Obesity Research, shows that the nation is spending about $75 billion a year on weight-related disease.” The commercial world works in tandem in a sinister manner.
The gullible youth only sees what meets the eye. They fail to understand that most of these super models and mega stars lead a highly stressful and tense life. No wonder quite a few models themselves suffer from eating disorders and are dying young in desperation to remain stick slim. There have also been instances when these ultra slim, under nourished model collapsed and passed away on the ramp itself. This should give one a peep into the terrible reality of being a model. This should also remind the young girls about the inherent danger of making these models their role-models. The government must impose a complete embargo on such fashion shows that play a catalytic role in promoting eating disorders!
The business world promotes beauty in more than one way. Even for a modest job of secretary or a personal assistant, the employers tend to weigh beauty over brains. This sends out very wrong signal. This ignites a dangerous shift of emphasis from education and learning to dieting and unnatural sculpturing of the body. This trend in the industry also contributes to the eating disorder and psychological problems. The society must learn to honor real merit. This alone will prevent eating disorder & its highly dangerous harmful effects.
Self- help and positive auto suggestion can really help in the cure of eating disorder. CMT or Compassionate Mind Training is another good option. Michele Kirsch explains Ken Goss’s method of self alleviation, “CMT helps people to develop the ability to soothe themselves at times of emotional distress. For example, binging is often used as a way of promoting a positive or neutral emotional state to avoid anxiety, anger or shame. If people can activate the self-soothing system they won't need to engage in binging to manage difficult feelings."
One should never work against Nature and that goes for the body too. One should never wage a war against one’s own body. I fully agree with Mary Ray Worley who says, “It’s a great system, really. In my case I’m convinced that as determined as I have been to become thin, my body has always been more determined to save me from starvation. My body is more stubborn than I am. Amazing. So I stopped dieting and began to make peace with food and with my body. I slowly stopped being afraid of food.” Just listen to your body and you would be safe!
The notorious American dream does seem to play a role here too. In this utilitarian world based upon crass materialistic considerations, success is the ultimate barometer of one’s position in society. This myth presupposes, “The Creator made man a success-machine ….and failure is as abnormal to him as discord to harmony” (Marsden 27). This success exclusively pertains to material success in life. The American dream heavily banks upon the flawed concept of being ‘well-liked’ rather than anything concrete or substantial.
I am reminded of Arthur Miller’s modern tragedy entitled ‘Death of A Salesman.’ Willy Loman, the tragic hero and protagonist of the play speaks out, “that’s the wonder of this country…..that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being well-liked” (Salesman 86). Such erroneous thinking leads Willy to a tragic death but no diamonds. Most of these young and adolescent people who suffer from eating disorder too desperately seek to be ‘well-liked,’ with equally dangerous consequences. The society gives a vivid impression that it doesn’t like fat or obese people. The stigma attached to obesity plunges people into eating disorder. Amanda Spake writes, “Prejudice against the obese stems from the widely held belief that getting fat--and certainly staying fat--results from a failure of willpower, a condition that could be remedied if obese people simply made a personal choice to eat less.”
The youngsters must be properly educated by their parents and teachers about the hollowness of such a faulty dream. The parents should also stop putting too much of emphasis on high achievement and performance. They must become good role models for their kids. They must spend quality time with their kids and share their problems. They are the ultimate guarantee of their emotional and psychological well being. If they nurture their kids well, they can certainly save them from any disorder whatsoever; be it emotional disorder or eating disorder.
Batchelor, Daniel. “Anorexia Nervosa in the Athlete”. Dynamic Chiropractic Huntington .
26 Mar 2007.
Felix-Ortiz, Maria. “Studies Suggest Eating Disorders could be Genetic and Biological”
San Antonio Express-News . 18 April 2007.
Hellmich, Nancy. “Do thin models warp girls' body image?” USA Today .
26 Sept. 2006.
Kirsch, Michele. “Be kind to yourself and cure your eating disorder” The Times .
18 April 2007.
Liu, Aimee. Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders . New York: Warner Books,
Marsden, Orison. Entering Business . New York: 1903.
Miller, Arthur. Death of A Salesman . Penguin, 1975.
Spake, Amanda.”Rethinking weight”. U.S. News & World Report . 5 may 2007.