Anorexia: Why We Can't "Just Eat'
anorexia: why we can't "just eat"
Once a rare and almost taboo problem, anorexia and anorexic behaviors run rampant. This problem doesn't just affect the culture and society of North America anymore, either. A recent study of girls in Thailand showed raising percentages of people with anorexia as usage of television increased. I am still shocked when I speak to people and almost every single one claims to have "once been anorexic" when the disorder comes up. It seems that by year 2005 just about everyone on the planet will be able to say that they too once "had" an eating disorder at some point in their lives. What is even scarier is the fact that anorexia is the leading cause of death amongst those seeking psychiatric help. The longer we lead lives of which it is becoming acceptable for children to diet at age 9, or for someone to starve for a "few days" to lose some quick weight for a date, the harder it will to fight the statistics...
words.of.experience: maria j.
I'm still not sure where my anorexia started. I guess I could pinpoint it to middle school. All of my friends were on diets and such and this one boy in gym class made a remark about my hips one day while we were playing basketball, so I decided that I'd probably be better off on a diet, too. I tried various diets and my friends and I practically poured over those stupid teen magazines trying to find the next fad, but I did lose about 10 lbs. I felt really good after that, REALLY good. I finally did something that my other friends tried and usually failed at. I figured that if I got compliments and attention after losing 10 lbs, losing 10 more would be even better...
I dieted harder and longer than those around me, which I guess should have been the first warning sign that something was wrong. Everyone else had dropped the dieting thing and had moved on to other stuff like boyfriends and sports, etc. I still continued my battle, though. I lost another 10 lbs quickly and began my own exercise regime. Running in the morning, school, then come home and run and do resistance training until nightfall, go to my bedroom and study, then god only knows how many crunches before officially going to sleep. Around that time I also discovered laxative tablets. I had been using diet pills but I constantly got too jittery in school from them, so I dropped 'em and took laxatives instead. They gave me bad cramps and gas, which I could sometimes keep away, but sometimes it was pretty severe.
I lost some more weight the next month and people started noticing that something was wrong. I could hear some of the girls sneer in the hallways, "Something HAS to be wrong with her, you just know it," but I only revelled in comments like that. It pushed me even more. This was MINE, something that only a few can "accomplish." It was MY control.
Unfortunately, the lack of nourishment took a toll on everything... It was getting harder and harder to study and concentrate in class. All I could think of was calories and food and exercise, etc. My body started to show signs that something was wrong as well. My skin turned this off-yellowish color and my hair became brittle and started falling out. Insomnia eventually set in and I got maybe 3 broken up hours of sleep a night. Inevitably the friends I had stayed away from me. I isolated myself and figured it was too much of a risk to be anywhere where there was food. So, not long after I started my "diet," here I was sitting with no friends, no sleep, my body falling apart, and my grades dropping. And I still kept on losing weight. And it's been that way since. I'm in college now, and I've been in and out of hospitals more times than I can remember, but this monster hasn't finished it's job with me. Pretty pathetic, huh? I know what I'm doing to myself, but I still can't let go.
Do you see yourself or someone you love in the paragraphs above? It's an all too common story of how anorexia starts and can progress into a lifelong battle if not treated. Unfortunately, a lot of therapists and "outsiders" are still unaware of what just goes on with an eating disorder such as anorexia. Let me first say that an eating disorder is not about trying to merely get attention or to "not look like a woman," nor does it occur because the person is selfish or manipulative. It is, however, about control, perfection, and how unworthy the person feels deep inside.
The typical person that is vulnerable to developing anorexia is perfectionistic and a people pleaser. They must have things just so and are often the mediators of the family. When problems come along, they often try hard to believe that they don't exist or they try hard to get the problem to go away as soon as possible. Often they care very much about what other people think of them, whether those people be their parents or their friends or even crushes. Caring so much about pleasing others and wanting to be liked usually ends up being the gateway to someone vulnerable developing anorexia.
Society has models grace the covers of "Seventeen" and just about every TV show out there, so the impression is made that to be liked and respected, you should be thin or have "the perfect body." Society puts control and money and thinness on the same pedestal, as well. To be thin is to be in control and to be worthy of attention. The person susceptible to developing anorexia sees all of this very clearly and begins to dislike themselves. Because people with anorexia are generally what is known as all-or-nothing people, it is hard for them to do anything inbetween or mediocre. This is why the dislike towards themselves and the dieting doesn't stop and continues on to severe extremes.
Besides society, there are obviously other factors that can trigger someone susceptible to developing a full-blown case of anorexia. Family is definitely one. For the majority, notice I did not say ALL but for the majority, the family is not the most stable. Often emotions and problems are kept under cover and are not dealt with in the family of someone with anorexia. When this happens it makes it even harder for someone who is battling the disorder to be able to ask for help. Asking for help takes tremendous strength and courage as it is, but when the family of someone who has come forward with their problems just sweeps them under the rug and refuses to acknowledge that they need help, it just makes getting treatment even harder. Along with this, the care takers of the person with anorexia may be perfectionistic themselves, and as a result, the person may have grown up believing that nothing they do is good enough and that to be worthy of love they must get all A's and nothing less.
The restricting may also be a form of control, as well. To be abused or live in a chaotic environment is to not be in control of yourself or your surroundings for a period of time, so the person with anorexia takes everything in life and measures it by one thing - their bodies. To be in control of this one object, this thing called a body, ensures that things will be "ok" if they can just lose more weight and so on.
It's like I'm paranoid lookin' over my back
It's like a whirlwind inside of my head
It's like I can't stop what I'm hearing within
It's like the face inside is right beneath my skin-Linkin Park
Many times someone with anorexia has had their personal boundaries invaded, meaning that someone hurt them physically or sexually at some point in their lives. The abuse may not have come from someone in the family, but it none-the-less triggers feelings of unworthiness, causing the person to starve themselves out of self-hatred. Another thing that can fuel the self-destruction is verbal and mental abuse, not just from family members, but also from people at school or significant others.
Regardless of how it started, the person fighting the demon anorexia inside feels unworthy of food and life. Although this illness sounds as if it were a problem of appetite and food and weight, it isn't. It is an illness of self-respect, of how one rates oneself in relation to others, and someone with anorexia honestly believes that they are horrible failures who do not deserve anything but pain. They feel like constant failures who can never do anything right. Deep down every person with anorexia feels and is convinced that they are inadequate, low, mediocre, inferior, and despised by others. All their efforts, their striving for perfection through excessive thinness, are directed toward hiding the flaw of being unworthy/imperfect.
Although someone with anorexia often just says their problems are because they are "fat," realize that "fat" means the same thing as "not good enough," and that is why someone fighting this monster fears "fat." They fear that they are not good enough as they think they should be.
People with anorexia often are reluctant to let go of the "security" of their disordered behaviors. They feel they have found, in their extreme restriction of food and rituals, the perfect solution to all their problems. Another problem faced by those with anorexia is the issue of being unable to see themselves clearly. When someone who is battling anorexia looks in the mirror they do not see themselves as they actually are in reality. Instead, they see only a fat, disgusting, failure. Often times the eating disorder will "tell" someone with this disorder that if they just lose 10 lbs they'll be thin enough, but once that weight is lost, the person finds themselves still despising their bodies and themselves, and more weight has to be lost. For these two reasons in particular, it often takes years for someone fighting anorexia to WANT help and to WANT to change. Then there is also the issue of family. Unfortunately, I hear of so many situations where someone has gone to the family for help and has only gotten anger, disgust, and sometimes even punishment in return, and as a result making it near impossible for someone with this problem to get help.
It is, however, possible to stop and end this distorted thinking and to be able to live a full life without being distracted by calories, and weights, and comparing oneself to friends and pictures in magazines. Realize that you or the person with anorexia cannot be forced into getting help. The ability to get better has to come from WANTING to get better. You or the person must want to change their patterns of thinking and living because it is within your/their hearts to do so. Otherwise, being bullied into a therapist's office or hospital will just lead to inevitable relapses.
When the willingness to receive help IS there, there are many options for eating disorders therapy. There are individual therapists, and usually finding a therapist that specializes in treating eating disorders is the most helpful one. Some therapists recommend family therapy for those who are under 16 or 18 years of age, but individual therapy is always required with family therapy. There is also the option of group therapy. I personally don't think a person with anorexia in particular should go into group therapy until they are sure that they will not be triggered. Seeing those who weigh less than them or have problems that are worse than theirs can easily throw a person fighting anorexia into competition if they are not well into therapy first. However, that is just my thought. Group therapy is more of an individual preference, and it should be deliberated whether it will be more helpful or more destructive for the person fighting to go to meetings.
Last Updated: 21 October 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD