Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a way of using food to work out emotional problems.
These illnesses develop because of emotional and/or psychological problems.
Eating disorders are the way some people deal with stress. In today’s society,
teenagers are pressured into thinking that bring thin is the same thing as being
happy. Chemical balances in the brain that may also result in depression,
obsessive compulsive disorders, and bi-polar disorders may also cause some
eating disorders. Other causes may be emotional events, illnesses, marital or
family problems, manic depression, or ending a relationship. Over eight million
Americans suffer from eating disorders. Over 80% of girls under age thirteen
admit to dieting, one of the main factors linked to eating disorders. Although
eating disorders are mainly found in middle- to upper class, highly educated,
Caucasian, female adolescents, no culture or age group is immune to them (EDA
HP, n.p.). The three major eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia
nervosa, and compulsive over-eating or binge-eating.

The most dangerous eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. “Anorexia nervosa
translates to “nervous loss of hunger”. It is a mental illness involving the
irrational fear of gaining weight. Usually, the victim is a perfectionist,
although he or she may suffer from a low self-esteem. In general, a member of
the opposite sex triggers anorexia. The first disease resembling present-day
anorexia is one called “Anorexia Mirabilis,” or “Miraculous lack of
appetite.” It is described as a disease of insanity, possibly like cancer,
tuberculosis, or diabetes. It was believed to arise from a diseased mental
state. Sir William Gull, a physician to England’s royal family, said that
these anorexics were suffering from “a perversion of the will” (Silverson).
In 1888, a French psychiatrist, Charles Lasegue viewed anorexia from a social
standpoint. He believed it was a way of rebelling. The Children of this time
were expected to and forced to clean their plates. They were also accustomed to
well-regulated meal times. Another cause of the disease in the Victorian era may
have been women’s expectations, such as to remain home after childhood. Their
only job was to get married and enhance the family’s social status. No
emotional outbursts, such as temper tantrums were permitted. The family life was
suffocating, but a young woman was able to protest in a semi-acceptable manner
by not eating. If she became ill, she became the center of attention and
concern, often her goal. Victorian women kept with the ideals of the time by
refusing food and restricting any intake. A hearty appetite was said to
represent sexuality and a lack of self-control, which was strictly prohibited
for women. The era was emphasized by spirituality, which also had an impact on
the restriction of meat. Ironically, most of the women were large, as common
meals were high in starches. Medical evidence of the existence of anorexia has
been documented as far back as 1873. It was decided that this refusal of food
was to attract attention. An American neurologist, Silas Weir Mitchell saw
anorexia as a form of neurasthenia, a nervous disorder characterized by nervous
exhaustion and lack of motivation. Mitchell thought the disease was caused by
any stressful life situation in combination with social pressure. Treatment was
a so-called “parentectomy,” which was removal from the home, and
force-feeding, if necessary. Mitchell preferred the pampering method, consisting
of a diet low in fats, total seclusion, bed-rest, and massage therapy. Sigmund
Freud, a psychiatrist from Vienna, believed that anorexia was a physical
manifestation of an emotional conflict. He believed that anorexia might be
linked to the subconscious desire to prevent normal sexual development. In the
1930s, doctors theorized that the only way to permanently recover from anorexia
was to explore the cause of the disease in the individual, in addition to weight
gain. In 1973, Dr. Hilde Bruch brought the disease to light for the first time
with her book, Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Person
Within. She believed that anorexics had “sever body-image disturbances that
made them unable to identify with and express their emotions” (Bruch). In
1982, scientists at the Edinburgh hospital in England hypothesized that anorexia
had a physical basis. These scientists conducted an experiment with 22
volunteers, ten of which were recognized as anorexics. The anorexics claimed to
feel full several hours after eating, supporting the idea that anorexia may have
been a digestive disorder. They disregarded this theory as they noticed that
waste excretion was equal to the normal samples’. Anorexia was finally
recognized as an eating disorder in the late 1870s.

Anorexics use food to focus on controlling their life by starving to death.
Ultimately, the illness takes control and the chemical changes in the