Anorexia Nervosa Essay, Research Paper
April 16, 1999
Anorexia is an eating disorder that usually strikes women between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five. An estimated one thousand females will die each year from anorexia. About eighty percent of females suffer from a sub clinical eating disorder and twenty percent will turn into full-blown anorexics in their lifetime. These are statistics that we know of. Anorexia can be hidden very well by many that suffer from it; therefore there are many cases we do not know of. Anorexia is a disorder in which preoccupation with dieting and thinness leads to excessive weight loss. The individual may not realize that weight loss or restricted eating is a problem. (Internet Mental Health www.mentalhealth.com).
Anorexia may not be noticed in the early stages because it often starts as an innocent diet. They often become hyperactive because they exercise frantically in an attempt to burn calories to lose weight. Even though the anorexic is emaciated, she still feels ?fat? and wants to hide her ?ugly, fat body?. A victim does not need to appear underweight or even average to suffer any signs or symptoms of anorexia. Many men and women with eating disorders appear not to be underweight, but this does not mean they suffer any less or are in any less danger. This is why in later and more dangerous stages; family members may not notice the disease because the anorexic usually wears layered and baggy clothes. (www.somethingfishy.com).
Presence of a low self-esteem is the most common element in anorexia nervosa. Stress, anxiety and unhappiness can also be leading factors in an anorexic life. Anorexia is their way of dealing and coping with the negative things going on in their life. Most people with eating disorders share certain personality traits, low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness and a fear of becoming fat. People with Anorexia tend to be ?too good to be true.? They rarely disobey, keep their feelings to themselves, and tend to be perfectionists, good students, and excellent athletes. Some researchers believe that people with anorexia restrict food, particularly carbohydrates, to gain a sense of control in some area of their lives. They have followed the wishes of others in their lives, and they have not learned how to cope with the problems typical of adolescence, growing up, and becoming independent. Controlling their own weight offers two advantages in their eyes; first they can take control of their bodies and secondly, gain approval of others. Eventually they become out of control, becoming dangerously thin. (Microsoft? Encarta 98 Encyclopedia).
Victims suffering with Anorexia get a sense of power out of their eating disorder. It is not uncommon to find an anorexic that feels high after periods of starvation. This is due to their feelings of inadequacy. Their poor self image and perception leads to feelings of guilt, they feel like they never do anything right and nothing they ever do is enough. Starvation is an accomplishment in their eyes, something they can do right. They also feel that their life would be better if they could lose weight, or that more people would like them if they lost weight.
Anorexics feel a need to control physical and emotional surroundings. In this way eating disorders are a negative coping mechanism, used to control emotions or to keep them suppressed. It feels easier to think about food, food intake, hunger, planning meals or avoiding them, instead of dealing with their emotions. Eating disorders can have a numbing effect, and can give victims a feeling of power over their emotions. (Mind & Body- Signs and symptoms- Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders)
Another major reason why women develop anorexia nervosa is societal pressures. In our society today there is an obsession with being thin in order to be beautiful. The waif look was recently popular causing many people to want to look like the models in magazines.
Genetic factors can also play a role in anorexia. Eating disorders appear to run in families. Female relatives are most often affected. Although genetic factors may play a role in the development of anorexia, other influences play a role such as behavioral and environmental. A recent study found that mothers who are overly concerned about their daughter?s weight and physical attractiveness might put the girls at increased risk of developing an eating disorder. Also girls with eating disorders often have a father and brothers who are overly critical of their weight. (Eating Disorders-Decade of the Brain www.mediconsult.com).
The most famous known case of Anorexia is probably that of Karen Carpenter, who died from heart failure resulting from Anorexia Nervosa. This disease can be defined as self-starvation leading to a loss of body weight fifteen percent below normal, accompanied with hyperactivity, hypothermia, and amenorrhea. Hypothermia results when the body?s natural insulation becomes non-existent and the victim becomes cold all the time. Amenorrhea is the absence of at least three menstrual cycles; this is also affected by the loss of fat stores in the body. (www.mediconsult.com)
Men who are affected by anorexia are usually into professions such as gymnastics, or modeling, acting and wrestling. Occupations or sports activities that have specific weight or body shape requirements are what cause the problems. Although anorexia is labeled as a women?s disease, more and more males are being diagnosed with it. Studies show that for every ten females with an eating disorder one male is affected. Males are under diagnosed because males are less likely to ask for help, especially with a ?women?s disease?. It is also believed that males with anorexia have a history of poor relationships with their parents. Also they have inhibited sexual expression and confused sexual identity. Many men suffering from anorexia are short, and fat before they stop eating. (Male Anorexia- www.mentalhealth.com).
Many medical complications come along with Anorexia. Starvation can damage vital organs such as the heart and brain. To protect itself the body shifts into slow gear. Monthly menstrual periods stop, breathing, pulse and blood pressure rates drop, and thyroid function slows. Frequent headaches are due to lowered blood pressure and decreased oxygen supply to brain. They are always cold because of the lack in circulation due to lowered blood pressure and slowed heart rate, and a slowed metabolism. A lack in potassium in the blood caused the low blood pressure. Their heart rate becomes slow or irregular and they develop electrolyte imbalances and vitamin deficiencies. Nails and hair become brittle; the skin gets very dry and yellows, and often becomes covered with soft hair called lanugo. Excessive thirst and frequent urination may occur. Dehydration is because of constipation from not eating. (?Anorexia Nervosa? www.wellweb.com).
Mild anemia, swollen joints, reduced muscle mass, and headaches commonly occur in Anorexia. Their bones are more prone to breakage due to the lack in calcium. In some patients the brain shrinks, causing personality changes. Luckily this condition can be reversed when normal weight is reestablished. Anorexia patients also suffer from other psychiatric illnesses. Some suffering from clinical depression, and others from anxiety, personality, or substance abuse disorders and many are at risk for suicide. (?Anorexia Nervosa?- www.wellweb.com).
In an attempt to understand eating disorders, scientists have studied the biochemical on the neuroendocrine system. Through studying the neuroendocrine system they found it regulates appetite and digestion, sleep, physical growth and development, emotions, thinking, kidney function, and memory. These are all functions of the mind and body, which are usually seriously disturbed in people with eating disorders. Also the hormone vasopressin is a brain chemical found to be abnormal in people with eating disorders. Researchers have shown that levels of this hormone are elevated in patients with Anorexia, and other eating disorders. Normally it is released in response to physical and possibly emotional stress, vasopressin may contribute to the obsessive behavior seen in some patients with eating disorders.
Eating disorders are most successfully treated when diagnosed early. Unfortunately even when a family member confronts the sick person about their behavior, individuals with the disorder will most likely deny they have a problem. Therefore people with eating disorders may not receive help or treatment for Anorexia until they have already become dangerously thin and malnourished. Eating disorders in males may be more often overlooked because anorexia is rare in boys and men. Getting and keeping people with these disorders in treatment can be very difficult. Treatment is very important, the longer these abnormal eating patterns go on the more difficult it is to overcome the disorder. Families need to offer support and encouragement to help with the success of the treatment.
People suffering from Anorexia are suffering from an interaction of emotional and physiological problems. Treatment must involve a variety of different doctors and approaches. Usually a treatment team will include an, internist, a nutritionist, and individual psychotherapist, and a pschopharmacologist (someone who is very knowledgeable about medications useful in treating the disorder). Patients need to undergo psychotherapy that will teach the patient how to change abnormal thoughts and behavior. Some antidepressant medications may be effective when combined with other forms of treatment. (?Anorexia Nervosa,? Microsoft? Encarta? 98 Encyclopedia.)
Treatment can save the life of someone with Anorexia. Friends, relatives, teachers, and physicians all play a role in helping the ill person start to get back to normal eating patterns and a normal life.
1. The Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, May 1998. ?Male Anorexia.? Internet Mental Health (www.mentalhealth.com). America Online.
2. ?Eating Disorders-Decade of the Brain.? www.mediconsult.com/eatdisorder/. America Online.
3. ?Mind and Body- Signs and Symptoms- Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders.? www.somethingfishy.com. America Online.
4. ?Anorexia Nervosa.? Wellness Web Homepage www.wellweb.com. America Online.
5. ?Anorexia Nervosa,? Microsoft? Encarta? 98 Encyclopedia. ? 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.