Starving For Perfection Essay, Research Paper
Starving for Acceptance
In today s society, where physical characteristics are used to measure beauty and success, people are willing to push their bodies to extremes to achieve physical perfection. As an overweight woman, I may be considered a failure of society s beauty test. However, my high self-esteem and acceptance of my body allows me to not be disturbed by what, to some, may seem as a sign of failure. Unfortunately, there are people whose desire to be accepted by society causes them to develop eating disorders. The two most common are called anorexia and bulimia (WebMD.Com Eating 1). The Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, association (ANRED), states Anorexia and bulimia affect primarily people in their teens and twenties, but clinicians report both disorders in children as young as six and individuals as old as seventy-six (ANRED Statistics 1). Anorexia and bulimia are both serious eating disorders with differences and similarities in their symptoms, diagnosis, causes, treatments and prognosis.
Although anorexia and bulimia share many of the same symptoms, they also have many differences. About half of people with anorexia also have symptoms of bulimia (MayoClinic.Com 2). According to the American Anorexia Bulimia Association (AABA), some symptoms of anorexia are: excessive exercising, depression, weakness, exhaustion, constipation, and loss of menstrual period in women (AABA Anorexia 1). They also state that bulimics suffer from those symptoms as well. (AABA Bulimia 1). Although there are
similarities, each disorder has its own unique characteristics. A major symptom of bulimia is binging and purging. Bulimics practice binging, eating large amounts of food at one time, and purging, causing themselves to vomit, or defecate, in an attempt to prevent weight gain (Reyes 1). Anorexics, however, restrict their diets and starve themselves in attempt to stay thin and if possible, lose more weight ( Anorexia Nervosa 1)
Like any other illness, eating disorders need to be diagnosed by a health care professional. People with eating disorders may also have psychological problems (WebMD.Com Eating 1). Because of this, medical and mental healthcare workers are able to diagnose both disorders (ANRED Treatment 3). The Mayo Clinic states that race, age, and social status of patients are also factors that affect the diagnosis of eating disorders:
One misconception is that eating disorders are confined to young white people from affluent families. People of all races, ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels can be affected. In the United States, researchers have found that Hispanics are diagnosed with eating disorders at about the same rate as whites, while higher rates are found among American Indians. Although the disorders are less common among young people who are Asian and black, there is evidence that blacks are more likely to develop bulimia than anorexia. (MayoClinic.Com 3)
Males suffering from anorexia and bulimia are often not correctly diagnosed. Some healthcare professionals consider eating disorders to be a female problem,
and therefore, fail to properly diagnose males with these disorders (ANRED Males 1). However, men are just as affected by societies demand for the perfect body. Colleen Rush of Dr.Drew.Com writes, of the 5 million Americans who suffer from eating disorders, approximately 10 percent–or 500,000–are men (Rush 1). Anorexics are usually very thin, with a body weight that is 15% below their required body weight. However, in addition to assessing their physical appears, doctors must also perform an Eating Attitudes Test (EAT) and an Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI) to determine if a patient is truly anorexic and not afflicted with a psychological disorder ( Anorexia Nervosa 4). Bulimia may be harder to diagnose because bulimics may not be visibly underweight and may even be overweight (AABA Bulimia 1). Doctors must perform complete physical exams to rule out other disease as the first step in determining if a person has bulimia ( Bulimia Nervosa 2). Additionally they must be able to recognize the obvious symptoms:
According to the American Psychological Association, a diagnosis of bulimia requires that a person have all of the following symptoms: Recurrent episodes of binge eating (minimum average of two binge-eating episodes a week for at least three months). A feeling of lack of control over eating during binges. Regular use of one or more of the following to prevent weight gain: self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, strict dieting or fasting, or vigorous exercise. Persistent over-concern with body shape and weight. (qtd in Bulimia Nervosa 3)
Once these symptoms have been confirmed, a doctor will then be able to accurately diagnose if a patient is bulimic.
Although anorexia and bulimia are different diseases, they have some of the same causes. According to ANRED, a major cause of anorexia and bulimia is the emphasis society places on having a perfect body:
A casual review of popular magazines and TV shows reveals that women are encouraged to diet and be thin so they can feel good about themselves, be successful at school and at work, and attract friends and romantic partners. Men, on the other hand, are exhorted to be strong and powerful, to build their bodies and make them large so they can compete successfully, amass power and wealth, and defend and protect their skinny female companions. (ANRED Males 2)
Living up to the high standard set by society causes anorexics and bulimics to spend hours obsessing about their appearance. Anorexia and bulimia may also be caused by several other reasons, including cultural and family pressures, chemical imbalances, emotional and personality disorders, and genetics (WebMD.Com What 1). People with family histories of eating disorders are more likely to be diagnosed with them (MayoClinic.Com 4). Men and women, who have a history of depression, personality disorders, or substance abuse, are at a higher risk for eating disorders (WebMD.Com 2). No one knows what causes anorexia, but some experts believe that anorexia is a response to social attitudes
that equate beauty with being thin (Johnson 1). Bulimia is however, thought to be caused, by social, psychological and biological factors (Reyes 2).
Anorexia and bulimia are serious disorders that require treatment. Both disorders are treatable and people are able to recover from them. Recovery may be as short as a few months, or last for several years (ANRED Treatment 1). Early detection and treatment is encouraged. The sooner treatment is begun the sooner the person can begin to recover (ANRED Medical 2). According to Donald E. McAlpine M.D., director of the eating disorders program at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, Weight can only be manipulated so far, and then the biological system pushes back (qtd in MayoClinic.Com Eating 3). The starving, stuffing, and purging associated with these disorders can lead to irreversible physical damage (ANRED Medical 1). According to ANRED, people suffering from both eating disorders have treatment options that include but are not limited to:
hospitalization; to prevent death, suicide and medical crisis, medication; to relieve depression and anxiety, dental work; to repair damage and minimize future problems, individual counseling; to develop healthy ways of taking control, group therapy; to learn how to manage relationships effectively, family therapy; to change old patterns and create healthier new ones, nutrition counseling; to debunk food myths and design healthy meals, and support groups; to break down isolation and alienation. (ANRED Treatment 2)
There are a few disorder specific treatments for both. Hospitalization is recommended for anorexics that weigh less than 40% of their normal body weight, show signs of severe depression or risk of suicide, and suffer from severe binging and purging. Anorexics who are not severely underweight can be treated in outpatient therapy ( Anorexia Nervosa 4). If a person does not show signs of a psychiatric disorder, drugs are rarely used to treat anorexia. Sometimes, a drug called cyproheptadine may be used to stimulate appetite, which is usually not effective since anorexics do feel hungry; they just choose not to eat (Johnson 4). Because bulimics often deny their condition, treating them can be difficult, and sometimes only begins with encouragement from a family member. Treatment of bulimia is usually done on an outpatient basis, but inpatient treatment may be necessary to make sure a person eats enough (Reyes 2). Since bulimics may have psychological disorders, a combination of drugs and behavioral therapies is commonly used in their treatment. Antidepressants called Norpamin, Tofranil, and Prozac are commonly used in the treatment of bulimia. These medications are beneficial because they treat the psychological symptoms ( Bulimia Nervosa 3).
Similarities and differences also may appear in the prognosis of anorexia and bulimia. People who have been treated for anorexia need to be aware that their illness may recur (Johnson 4). Likewise, those who have been treated for bulimia may need to continue long-term treatment to prevent a relapse (Reyes 3). Figures on long-term recovery for anorexics vary by study, but the
most reliable sources estimate that 40-60% of anorexics will make a good physical and social recovery, and 75% will gain weight. The long-term mortality rate is estimated at about 10%. The most frequent cause of death in anorexics is starvation, electrolyte imbalance, heart failure, and suicide ( Anorexia Nervosa 5). According to The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders ( Anorexia Nervosa 2). Bulimia can be chronic and lead to serious health problems, including seizures, irregular heartbeat, and thin bones. Unlike anorexia, people die as a result of bulimia in rare cases. Early detection and treatment can effectively manage the disorder and help bulimics look forward to a normal life ( Bulimia Nervosa 3).
Anorexia and bulimia are not diseases discussed everyday. More discussion is done about the disadvantages of being overweight than those of being underweight. As long as society continues to embrace the thin and use them as the model of perfection, the number of people who truly suffer from these very serious eating disorders may never be known.
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