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
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
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
“ 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
United State of America: Hans Huebner, 1993
2.Treasure, Janet. ANOREXIA NERVOSA:A Survival Guide for Families, Friends,
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