“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fattest one of all?”
Fairy tales are not real, so is the image you see in the mirror. Thousands of people look in the mirror and hate what they see. When you look in the mirror, you see what eating disorder wants you to see, not the true picture.
Despite the fact that many people think of an eating disorder as being an unhealthy quest for a perfect body, eating disorders are not about vanity and not really about weight. The causes of eating disorders are not known with precision but are thought to be a combination of genetic, neuro-chemical, psycho-developmental, and socio-cultural factors. Eating disorders are complex, psychological illnesses where people try to control conflict and stress in their lives by controlling food. The food, weight, and body image issues are identifiable symptoms of deep-rooted, often difficult-to-identify problems. Typically, people who develop an eating disorder are in emotional turmoil. They want to be in control but feel they are not. Any anxiety, self-doubt, or feelings of failure or inadequacy become tied to how they look. When being thin becomes an obsession, when self-worth becomes associated with slimness, the stage is set for eating disorders. People with eating disorders become preoccupied, even obsessed, with food and weight. Eating disorders can lead to extreme behavior including self-starvation, bingeing, purging, and compulsive exercise. Untreated eating disorder lead to heart damage, depression, permanent health damage, or suicide. Eating disorders– anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are psychiatric illnesses that affect over five million American women and men. Eating disorders can affect anyone — adults, young adults, teenagers, boys, girls, men, women, athletes, and couch potatoes. There is no single cause for eating disorders. Although eating disorders were once thought to be strictly psychological illnesses, recent research indicates that some people may have a genetic predisposition toward eating disorders. Studies also show that there is often a connection between eating disorders and other illnesses such as clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disease Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Scientists and researchers are still learning about the underlying causes of these emotionally and physically damaging conditions. There are some general issues that contribute to the development of eating disorders. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food. People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem over-whelming. For some, dieting, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one’s life, but ultimately, these behaviors will damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a refusal to eat enough to maintain a healthy body weight. People with anorexia develop an intense, irrational fear of becoming fat even though underweight. This fear escalates to the point where intentional starvation is used as a means to achieve the desired thinness. People with this illness truly believe they are fat, even though others can see that they have become painfully thin, even emaciated. Anorexia nervosa has the most severe consequence, with a mortality rate of 0.56 percent per year (or 5.6 percent per decade) (Sullivan, 1995), a rate higher than that of almost all other mental disorders (Herzog et al., 1996). Like all eating disorders, it tends to occur in pre or post puberty, but can develop at any life change. Anorexia nervosa predominately affects adolescent girls, although it can also occur in men and older women. One reason younger women are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders is their tendency to go on strict diets to achieve an “ideal” figure. This obsessive dieting behavior reflects a great deal of today’s societal pressure to be thin, which is seen in advertising and the media. Others especially at risk for eating disorders include athletes, actors, and models for which thinness has become a professional requirement. Knowledge about the causes of anorexia is inconclusive, and the causes may be varied. In an attempt to understand and uncover the origins of eating disorders, scientists have studied the personalities, genetics, environments, and biochemistry of people with these illnesses. Certain personality traits common in persons with anorexia are low self-esteem, social isolation, and a perfectionist attitude. These people tend to be good students and excellent athletes. Bulimia is a cycle of uncontrolled binge eating followed by purging through vomiting or the use of laxatives. Individuals with bulimia are often of normal weight or even slightly overweight. Bulimia can range from a mild and relatively infrequent response to stress to an extremely debilitating pattern that absorbs nearly all of a person’s time, energy, and money. In its most severe forms, binge eating and purging may occur ten or more times a day. Bulimia usually begins innocuously as an attempt to control weight. Purging may seem to be a convenient means for a person to overeat without gaining weight. It can quickly become a destructive process that cannot be controlled. Persons with bulimia are often aware that their eating patterns are abnormal and out of control and that their lives are dominated by their eating habits. They may feel guilty and depressed after a binge. Over time, the cycle becomes more and more dominant in the person’s thoughts and behavior. It may impair personal relationships and interfere with other activities, leading to depression, isolation, and lowered self-esteem. Once caught in this pattern, the resulting shame and sense of helplessness may make it difficult for the person to seek the help that is needed. Uncontrollable eating and consequent weight gain characterize compulsive overeating. Compulsive overeaters use food as a way to cope with stress, emotional conflicts and daily problems. The food can block out feelings and emotions. Compulsive overeaters usually feel out of control and are aware their eating patterns are abnormal. Like bulimics, compulsive overeaters do recognize they have a problem. Compulsive overeating usually starts in early childhood when eating patterns are formed. Most people who become compulsive eaters are people who never learned the proper way to deal with stressful situations and used food instead as a way of coping. Fat can also serve as a protective function for them, especially in people that have been victims of sexual abuse. They sometimes feel that being overweight will keep others at a distance and make them less attractive. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, there is a high proportion of male overeaters. The more weight that is gained, the harder they try to diet and dieting is usually what leads to the next binge, which can be followed by feelings of powerlessness, guilt, shame and failure. Dieting and bingeing can go on forever if the emotional reasons for the bingeing are not dealt with. Eating Disorder obviously seems to be important issues amongst adolescences. Many teenagers died, some survived, and some don’t know they are engaged in an eating disorder. It seems that the only way we can avoid adolescences going through this is by having a cultural and family de-emphasis on physical appearance that may eventually reduce the incidence this disorder.