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The History Of Anorexia Nervosa

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    In American society women are given the message starting from a very young agethat in order to be successful and happy, they must be thin. Eating disordersare on the rise, it is not surprising given the value which society places onbeing thin. Television and magazine advertising that show the image of glamorousand thin model are everywhere. Thousands of teenage girls are starvingthemselves daily in an effort to attain what the fashion industry considers tobe the ideal figure. An average female model weighs 23% less than therecommended weight for a woman. Maintaining a weight 20% below your expectedbody weight fits the criteria for the emotional eating disorder known asanorexia (Pirke & Ploog, 1984). According to medical weight standards, mostmodels fit into the category of being anorexic (Garfinkle & Garner, 1990).

    Physicians now believe that anorexia has existed for at least 300 years (Pirke& Ploog, 1984). It was however only about one hundred years ago thatProfessor Ernest Lasegue of the University of Paris finally identified anorexiaas an illness (Pirke & Ploog, 1984). The term “anorexia nervosa”literally means nervous lose of appetite. Most researchers and physicians agreethat the number of patients with this life threatening disease is increasing atan alarming rate. Garfinkle & Garner define anorexia as ?an emotionaldisorder characterized by an intense fear of becoming obese, lack of self-esteemand distorted body image which results in self-induced starvation (1990). Thedevelopment of this disease generally peaks between the age of 14 to 18 but canoccur later in life and is not uncommon to see it in women in to their early 40`s.

    Recent estimates suggest that 1% of American girls between this age span willdevelop anorexia to some degree (Garfinkle & Garner, 1990). It has alsopropagated in many college campuses, and it is spreading. Studies have shownthat nearly 20% of college women may suffer from anorexia or bulimia (Pirke& Ploog, 1984). The disease develops slowly over a period of months to yearsduring which the sufferer changes her eating patterns to a very restricted diet.

    As stated previously above, an anorexic is diagnosed by having a body weight 20%below the expected body weight of a healthy person at the same age and height ofthe eating disorder patient. The anorexic may often becomes frightened ofgaining weight and even of food itself. The patient may feel fat, even thoughtheir body weight is well below the normal weight for their height. Some mayeven feel they do not deserve pleasure out of life and will deprive themselvesof situations offering pleasure, including eating. This fear becomes sodifficult to manage that the sufferer will gradually isolate themselves fromother people and social activities. This happens so the sufferer can continuethe exhausting anorexic behaviors. Although the mortality rate is high (30% ofanorexics will eventually die from the disease), approximately one third areable overcome the disease with psychiatric help (Pirke & Ploog, 1984).

    Warning signs to look for in someone you suspect of anorexia. Physical signs areintolerance of cold due to the absence of the body`s natural insulator (fat),dizziness and fainting spells, dry skin, loss of muscle, and the most obvious, aweight loss of about fifteen percent. There are also behavioral changes in aperson when they becomes anorexic including restricted food intake, odd foodrituals, an increased fear of food, hyperactivity, dressing in layers, andregular weighing. Some “odd food rituals” include things like cuttingfood into small pieces, counting bites or even talking to their food. Anorexicsare not repelled or revolted by food, in fact their minds are often dominated bythoughts of food. While the exact cause of anorexia is still unknown, acombination of psychological, environmental, and physiological factors isassociated with the development of this disorder (Cove, 1998). The most commoncause of anorexia in a woman is an incorrect self-perception of her weight.

    Anorexics feel as if they are heavier than the others around them, and believethe quickest way to lose weight is to simply stop eating. Anorexia survivorNanett Pearson (Miss Utah 1996) explains I became obsessed with body image. Ikept journals and in one pathetic passage I described how I went for sixteendays on water, and only about two glasses a day (1998). At first, this methodmay seem to work and the subject loses weight, but their bodies will soon adjustto the lack of food it learns to use the energy it receives more efficiently.

    Ironically, starvation is a very inefficient way to lose weight. When a personstops eating, their body goes into an emergency conservation mode burning verysmall amounts of energy, food is then stored away as fat until more food isobtained. Another factor contributing to anorexia is the need to obtainperfection. A perfectionist desires excellence in all aspects of their life.

    When they cannot achieve perfection in their endeavors, they punish themselvesby restriction or starvation. Anorexics may also desire control over theirlives, including their physical and emotional surroundings. Miss Pearsonexplains this I loved the power I felt in starving myself (1998). People whofall in to the trap of anorexia often feel they have a lack of control overtheir lives and the only thing they can control is what they eat. They havecontrol over their body and eat exactly what they want and as little as theywant. It is common for an anorexic to feel a high from periods of starvation.

    Overall, anorexia can have a very numbing effect and give its victims a feelingof power over their own emotions. Deep emotional conflicts can also contributeto the disease. When a child (or any person) is told that they are fat, ugly ordumb often enough they begin to believe it. As a woman grows into an adolescent,comments such as fat, ugly, dumb tend to take greater effect and when she looksin the mirror she begins to see only what others tell her to see, at fat, ugly,dumb girl. This image will prevail even when anorexia has brought a personsweight down to the point were the person is at risk of death. The effects ofanorexia nervosa are severe and sometimes irreversible. It can cause changesexternally, internally, and psychologically. The external changes includeobviously dramatic weight loss but also can include rotting teeth, recedinggums, dry skin, fainting spells, hair loss, and growth of fine body hair on faceand back. The internal changes include loss of menstrual cycle, infertility,headaches, swelling, loss of bone density, kidney infections, liver damage,constipation, diarrhea, extreme temperature sensitivity, cramps, poorcirculation, dehydration, low blood pressure, slowed or irregular heart rate,bowel tumors, hypoglycemia, throat infections, and low blood sugar (Pirke &Ploog, 1984). Psychologically, the anorexic suffers with isolation from others,mood swings, insomnia, hyperactivity, low self esteem, fatigue, depression,self-hatred, electrolyte imbalance and loss of sexual desire. 30% of anorexicswill either die from complications due to the eating disorder or commit suicideas a result of the emotional turmoil caused by anorexia in their lives (Pirke& Ploog, 1984). Many support groups and associations are helping the fightagainst anorexia and other eating disorders. The Anorexia Bulimia NervosaAssociation (ABNA) and the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa andAssociated Disorders (ANAD) are major organizations in the fight against thesedisorders. These groups are paving the way for research and new and bettertreatments. These groups help in providing family counseling and psychotherapy.

    Treatment for anorexia nervosa usually consists of nutritional therapy,individual psychotherapy, and family counseling. A team made up ofpediatricians, psychiatrists, social workers administers treatment. Somephysicians hospitalize anorexia patients until they are nutritionally stable,while others prefer to work with patients in a more safe and secure familysetting. The most urgent concern of the physician is getting the patient to eatand gain weight, this is accomplished by gradually adding calories to thepatient`s daily intake (Cove, Judy). When hospitalized, privileges are sometimesgranted as a reward in return for gaining weight. Individual psychotherapy isalso necessary in the treatment of anorexia to help the patient understand thedisease process and its effects. Therapy focuses on the patient`s relationshipswith her family, friends, and the reasons she may have fallen into the trap ofanorexia. As a patient learns more about their condition, they are more oftenwilling to try to help themselves recover. In treating anorexia nervosa, it isextremely important to remember that immediate success does not guarantee apermanent cure. Many times, even after successful hospital treatment and returnto normal weight, patients suffer relapses. Follow-up therapy lasting three tofive years is recommended if the patient is to be successfully treated (Cove1998). Finally I have a few words to say. Anorexia Nervosa is a debilitating andcruel disease that targets hundreds of thousands worldwide and kills thousandseach year. If you know of someone with it or if you just have suspicions pleasetry to get them some help through one of the many organizations out their.

    Anorexia nervosa is very treatable. With earlier detection and a comprehensivetreatment plan the successes rates are high. Anorexia is more treatable thencancer. So I urge you don`t wait, act now.

    BibliographyCove, Dr. Judy. (1998). Anorexia Nervosa General Information. Mental HealthNet. ( Pearson, Nanett. (1998) A Personal Recovery Story:Starving for Attention. Laureate ( Pirke, K.M., &Ploog, D. (Eds.). (1984) The Psychobiology of Anorexia Nervosa. New York:Springer-Verlag. Thompson, Colleen. (1996). Society and Eating Disorders. MirrorMirror. ( Garfinkle, P. E., & Garner, M.

    (1990). Anorexia Nervosa: A multi-dimensional perspective. New York: GuilfordPress.


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