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Eating Disorders Essay, Research Paper

Eating Disorders

Each year millions of people in the United States are affected by serious and sometimes life-threatening eating disorders. The vast majority are adolescents and young adult women. Approximately one percent of adolescent girls develop anorexia nervosa, a dangerous condition in which they can literally starve themselves to death. Another two to three percent develop bulimia nervosa, a destructive pattern of excessive overeating followed by vomiting or other ” purging ” behaviors to control their weight. These eating disorders also occur in men and older women, but much less frequently. The consequences of eating disorders can be severe. For example, one in ten anorexia nervosa cases leads to death from starvation, cardiac arrest, or suicide. Fortunately, increasing awareness of the dangers of eating disorders, sparked by medical studies and extensive media coverage, has led many people to seek help. Nevertheless, some people with eating disorders refuse to admit that they have a problem and do not get treatment. Family and friends can help recognize the problem and encourage the person to seek treatment.

Anorexia Nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders that can be characterized by intense fear of gaining weight or becoming obese, as well as a distorted body image, leading to an excessive weight loss from restricting food intake and excessive exercise. Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation because food and weight become obsessions. For some, the compulsiveness shows up in strange eating rituals, some even collect recipes and prepare gourmet feasts for family and friends. Loss of monthly menstrual periods is typical in women with this disorder and men with this disorder usually become impotent.

People with bulimia nervosa consume large amounts of food and then rid their bodies of the excess calories by vomiting, abusing laxatives or exercising obsessively. Some use a combination of all these forms of purging. Many individuals with bulimia “binge and purge” in secret and maintain normal or above normal body weight, they can often successfully hide their problem from others for years. As with anorexia, bulimia typically begins during adolescence. The condition occurs most often in women but is also found in men. Many individuals with bulimia do not seek help until they reach their 30 s or 40 s. By then, their eating behavior is deeply ingrained and more difficult to change.

While a typical sufferer of Anorexia or Bulimia are members of the middle class or affluent society; recent findings show sufferers come from all backgrounds and many different styles and sizes of families. As Nagel and Jones stated, Over the past twenty years, anorexia and bulimia nervosa have reached epidemic proportions within the adolescent and young adult population (Nagel and Jones1992). There is also a tendency for anorexics to set unreasonably high goals and to aim for perfection in all that they do.

Generally speaking, bulimia is likely to begin after the late teens, while anorexia more often starts during adolescence. The majority of eating disorders occur in females and the incidence of anorexia or bulimia in males is about 5% of all cases, with the onset of the disorders generally mid-teens to early twenties.

There are many causes of the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

There are many theories, but no clear picture on which theory has more pull. It is an over simplification the mass media’s presentation of the ideal shape of the perfect body mostly represented though western society’s increased emphasis on the slim, fit body places pressure on many people. Romeo came to a conclusion that the cultural pressure from the advertising industry is for females to be thin . He says, that their fathers pressured them to excel in sports or to have a muscular physique (Romeo 1994). If the parents have control of the child emotionally and/or mentally, this can play a major role in the development of an eating disorder because the child feels that with this eating disorder they have the only and final say on what they do with their bodies.

We know there are many factors affecting the development of the disorders biological, psychological and sociological so the relationship between parent and child need not to be seen as the dominant cause. However, the reluctance to mature physically (sexually) and emotionally, and the issues of personal control between parent and child, could contribute to some cases of anorexia. Low self -esteem and poor body image contributes to both disorders; and it seems life crises- such as changing relationships, childbirth or death- may trigger the eating disorders. In a case study done by Holaday, Smith, Robertson, Dallas they stated that there subject he expressed a fear of becoming obese; and he had a history of experiencing his stomach as fat when he did eat a meal (Holaday, Smith, Robertson, Dallas 1994).

There can be side effects of Anorexia and Bulimia. The anorexic experiences physical side effects similar to malnutrition, which can be followed with severe sensitivity to the cold, loss of menstrual periods and growth of down-like body hair. Bulimic women may also stop menstruating or have irregular periods. Both disorders involve the possible dysfunction of the kidneys, imbalance in the bodily chemicals and damage to colon or urinary tracts. Constant vomiting erodes dental enamel and gives the person a sore throat and gullet. Each disorder places tremendous emotional strain on sufferers, the malnourishment of anorexics actually results in an inability to think clearly or concentrate. Despite many sufferers reluctance to admit anything is wrong, the quality of life for an anorexic or bulimic person leaves a lot to be desired.

Friends and families are alienated by the unpredictable and anti- social behavior of the sufferer. The anorexic and bulimic person is unable to take part in food related activities, and may undergo a complete personality change. Left untreated, both disorders can lead even to death, so I would recommend expert advice as soon as possible.

Parents often comment on the deceptions practiced by their sick child. While anorexics will usually deny having a problem, bulimics will go to great lengths to conceal the problem. It is a shock for a parent to find evidence of vomiting, of empty boxes of laxatives in a daughter’s room. Husbands are devastated to learn the reason their wife delays coming to bed each evening is that she is purging herself in the bathroom. The siblings of a sufferer often become co-conspirators with their brother or sister to keep the truth form their parents. The strain of living with the eating disordered person can create divisions in the family. Each person is involved by the sufferer’s behavior in different ways. However, all of the family members feel about the same emotions that can include, confusion, helplessness, anxiousness, and anger. Everybody wonders how to approach the loved one and how to deal with the problem. The best way to approach this problem is to prevent it from happening any way possible.

Encouragement, caring and persistence, as well as information about eating disorders and their dangers can help prevent eating disorders. Family members and friends can call local hospitals or university medical centers to find out about eating disorder clinics and clinicians experienced in treating the illnesses, for the college students, treatment programs may be available in school counseling centers. Another thing that the family and friends should do is read as much as possible about eating disorders, so they can help the person with the illness understand his or her problem. Many local mental health organizations and the self help groups provide free literature on eating disorders. Some of these groups also provide treatment program referrals and information on local self-help groups. Once the person gets help, he or she will continue to need lots of understanding and encouragement to stay in treatment.

The best thing for families and friends to do to help the sufferer is to understand why that sufferer developed and has eating disorders. The understanding of the way the sufferer feels is best put by Kagan and Squires (1984) the most important affective variable for identifying adolescents with disordered eating habits was the feeling that one had failed to meet one s own expectations and the expectations of others . The first step is to get the problem out in the open, but being really sensitive about it and taking great care. The person who has the disorders feels shame and guilt and may feel threatened that the secret is out. They might feel angry, and the feelings need to be worked out in a constructive way. Reassurance that the friends and family do not blame the sufferer will help a lot. Sufferers need to seek professional help and family members need to insist if the sufferer is in danger or in complete denial. Brone and Fisher (1988) say that the best Treatment for any eating disorder requires a comprehensive treatment strategy that usually involves the services of a team of professionals and Medication also Behavior Modification and Group Therapy or Self Help Groups. Also Family Therapy and Individual Psychotherapy can play a huge role in the sufferer recovering.

Some symptoms of anorexia include drastic sudden weight loss and irritability. Bulimia symptoms include evidence of vomiting and use of laxatives. Both disorders include alienation from friends and family. Both eating disorders are caused by lack of self-esteem, many changes in life, or over simplification of life (ex. If I eat, I get fat). Thankfully, anorexia and bulimia are usually treatable through psychotherapy and intense affection, patience, and good down to earth love.


Brone, J. R., & Fisher, B. C. (1988). Determinations of Adolescent Obesity: A Comparison with Anorexia Nervosa. Adolescence, 89, 155-167

Holaday, M., Smith E. K., Robertson, S. & Dallas, J. (1994). An Atypical Eating Disorder With Crohn s Disease in a Fifteen-Year-Old-Male: A Case Study. Adolescence, 116, 865-873

Kagan, M. D. & Squires, L. R. (1984). Eating Disorders Among Adolescents: Patterns And Prevalence. Adolescence, 73, 15-31

Nagel, L. K. & Jones, H. K. (1992). Sociological Factors in the Development of Eating Disorders. Adolescence, 105, 107-113

Romeo, F. (1994). Adolescent Boys and Anorexia Nervosa. Adolescence, 115,

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