June 2003
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The Truth about Thin
By Becky M., Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Around 150,000 people in Canada go hungry every day, not because they have no food, but because they won't allow themselves to eat it.

While dieting is a normal way for people to lose a few pounds that they gained over winter or an illness, sometimes a diet goes too far. When this happens the person can no longer see themselves in a normal manner. They may develop some dementia and begin seeing themselves as fat even when they are emaciated. They may develop an eating disorder.

Two of the most common forms of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexics are characterized by not eating, or eating very small amounts during the day. A person who is anorexic will become gaunt, their hair may fall out, their skin tone may become pale and waxy and they may grow a fine light hair over their body as their body tries to insulate itself.

Bulimics may look much the same as anorexics except they are usually less thin. Bulimics go through periods of not eating followed by periods when they eat as much food as they can in the span of at least two hours. This is binging, after they binge, they will purge or vomit everything they ate up. Added health risks to bulimics are their esophagus may get burned and their tooth enamel may get worn down by their stomach acids.

There is a wide variety of anorexics, some will limit the types of food they eat, some the times and some, of course, how much. Bulimics are the same as that there are different degrees. Some may only purge after eating large quantities of junk food, but allowing themselves to eat healthier foods and others will binge and purge on anything.

Also many people with eating disorders begin to mutilate their bodies as a way to cope. They will cut or burn their bodies as a punishment for eating too much. They may also cut or burn as a way to ignore their hunger. This may be because of their eating disorder or it may be caused by the depression which usually accompanies an eating disorder. This also leaves visual reminders of the illness for the rest of the persons life.

One grade 12 student at Fredericton High School, Saba H., said there's a lot of pressure to be unrealistically thin. The new fashion trends being smaller and the media using even more unrealistically thin people is making people even more self conscience. "Even guys have pressure, though less, with products like AXE body spray,"said Saba. She said the media sell products by making people feel they're not good enough as they are.

This sentiment is agreed upon by Mr. Mike LeBlanc, a guidance counsellor at FHS. He compared the media to a second family that is "sometimes more powerful than the actual family." Also the pressure is at school, one or two comments can push a person into an anorexic or bulimic mind set. "You're fat" are powerful words, mostly to females, but to males sometimes as well.

Mr. LeBlanc also said that people with eating disorders make good liars. They tell their families, friends and even themselves that they don't have a problem when they do. The longer it takes to get help, the longer it takes to get over one. Also 90% of all people with eating disorders never fully get over the disorder and it's a life-long struggle. The best advice that Mr. LeBlanc learned came from a conference in Saint John, N.B. A teacher who was recovering from anorexia was speaking and said for friends to take the person with the problem out to eat, and to make them eat, to watch them afterwards and to be supportive.

Ms. Patricia Sullivan, the school nurse at FHS, doesn't see as many cases as the guidance office does. She believes there's more of a problem with obesity at the school. A few warning signs she gave about the "thin" eating disorders are rapid weight loss, obsessive dieting, mood changes, preoccupation with food, thinking about food in calories, exercising too much, fainting and denial that there may be a problem.

Because many people who have eating disorders are perfectionists Ms. Sullivan believes there needs to be a program in the school system to promote a healthy body image and good coping skills so students can learn to deal with all the pressure around them. "Also," she said, "it needs to be ongoing, throughout school or else some people may not pay attention until it's too late." She believes it should be started as soon as children enter school. With one survey showing half the girls in a grade 3 class wishing they were thinner you can see a need for early intervention.

While anorexia and bulima are thought to be female diseases, that's not true. Males, while at a lower risk, still suffer from the diseases. Twenty years ago it was 1 male for every 10-15 females with anorexia or bulimia, now it's 1 for every 4 for anorexia and 1 for every 8 for bulimia. Many males who participate in sports that require thinness, such at running, wrestling and horse jockeying are at higher risk. There is also a higher number of males who suffer while being involved with dancing, acting, modelling, and musicians. The difference between the disease in women and men is that men usually have a past of obesity and tend to develop the disorder at an older age.

The number of males who have an eating disorder will probably never be full known because of the stigma about it being a female disease. Males tend to feel more isolated because of the disease than their female counterparts, since mental diseases are signs that a person is weak. Also some healthcare professionals believe that eating disorders are an exclusively female disease so they don't diagnosis it in males even if they have it. Also a male who has a disorder may let people think he's just trying to stay in shape, and he may not tell people because he's afraid of people thinking he's a homosexual. Sometimes a homosexual male will develop an eating disorder as a way to cope with his emotions, which is why males with eating disorders are assumed to be homosexual.

Many people agree that Marilyn Monroe was one of the most beautiful women ever lived. She also had a dress size of 12, and pants size of 8, much higher than the size 0 or 1 many anorexics get down to. She was also well within her ideal weight range at 118 lbs. A range many people with eating disorders try to get lower then. More recently singer Cristina Aguilera appeared to have gained some weight after making it big. She is also within her ideal weight range and is considered one of the sexiest pop stars around now. This is showing how people get too preoccupied with the super models and the gaunt singers instead of seeing people with actual beauty.

For anyone to successfully overcome an eating disorder they need help. A specially trained counsellor is one of the main tools because eating disorders are disorders of the mind. Also talking to their family doctor will help because they can explain all the physical problems that can occur as the result of an eating disorder. Such as frail bones, low blood pressure, weakness, fatigue and hyperactivity, lightheadedness, loss of concentration, depression, social phobia, panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and for females irregular or no menstrual cycle, and if the disease is not treated timely, death.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder call:

Kids Help Phone: 1 800 668 6868

or visit:


or talk to your family doctor, school nurse, guidance counsellor or another trained professional.


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