June 2003
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Saying Good Bye to the Hollywood Image
By Emily H., Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Another unbearable day has gone by, and you know that deep inside you something has changed. Having starved yourself all day, you still possess a fear that creates this powerful urge to make yourself throw up. "God I'm fat!", you say aloud as you stare in disgust and anger at your reflection in the mirror. "I hate my life. When will this end?"

I remember when it all started. It seems like just yesterday, but actually it was roughly five years ago. I was in grade eight at Albert Street Junior High School. I just remember wanting something more, to fit in, to grab the attention of others. But most of all, I was afraid of change. I was afraid to grow up. Throughout my life I've learned many lessons, but only through many hardships was this possible.

Anorexia nervosa can be defined as an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming too big, even though you are underweight. It can also be defined as being 15% below ideal body weight with the refusal to maintain a normal weight or above normal weight for height and age. However, I know better, and how deeply this plague that takes over the mind can go.

You don't even realize the sudden or gradual changes you begin to take. Everything from unique rituals to compulsive behaviours. Even the smallest of things can consume you and become extremely important.

Anorexia can occur to anyone of any age or sex, and usually occurs in those going through adolescent changes, intense problems, etc.

This represents a serious health problem for 0.5 - 2 % of female adolescents and young women. Women who experience anorexia nervosa suffer the physical impact of starvation including fluid, mineral and electrolyte imbalances. All of these endanger neurologic, cardiac, osteologic, endocrinologic as well as psycho social effects such as depression, suicide, ideation, declining academic or occupational performance. It also causes difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

It has been roughly estimated that only one-third of the anorectic population fully recover, while another third reach a level of maintenance and the unfortunate remaining third continue to be chronically ill. As many as 18 - 20% die from various complications.

The intense fear of gaining weight or becoming big, even through underweight, is powerful enough to cause individuals to diet to the point of starvation. While the term anorexia means loss of appetite, this is not true of anorexia nervosa. A person with anorexia nervosa is hungry, but he or she is afraid to eat because of the fear. Individuals who are suffering from anorexia have an incredible amount of patience to starve themselves and the self discipline to not feel their hunger and ignore it. Often specific foods are avoided, especially those that are high in fat and calories. Often individuals will become vegetarians and want to eat healthy when indeed the issue is the fear of gaining weight. There is constant thoughts about food. For example, how much calories or fat did I eat today?, how much exercise should I do if I eat a muffin?, how many times should I check the scale?, etc. All of which are extremely dangerous thought patterns.

"The ‘hollywood' image that teens see today on television and in magazines are that of perfectly airbrushed bodies. Teens think they have to achieve that look to be accepted, so they'll try everything. Some go to very drastic measures, which aren't always the best things to do", said Megan S. a Fredericton High School student. "Some people take it way too far, and end up getting very sick".

There is always the attempt to try to control eating because at the time they may feel that it is the only thing they have control over in their lives. Often meals are avoided or are eaten very slowly, pondering each bite, fearing that surely it will make them fat. These thoughts begin to control a person's mind, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their entire life can be centred on this fear, slowly they deprive themselves from their family, friends and even the fun things. Things that were once enjoyable, but now no longer seem enjoyable.

"Being anorexic is having control over something in your life, when you have little or no control of anything else. Most people would think that the gratification of being skinny makes you feel higher than the rest, when in fact it's the opposite", said Heather M. a Fredericton High School student. "Being anorexic takes over a person's entire persona, your life revolves around constant thoughts like, "If I eat that am I going to gain weight, or "If I drive by K.F.C., will the fumes in the air give me calories?", it becomes more than an obsession."

An individual suffering from anorexia nervosa will find it difficult to understand just how serious their increasingly low weight, emaciated figures and dieting habits are. So much so that it could be to the point of no return, to the point where it becomes fatal.

They will try to reassure their family and friends that they are fine and they should stop worrying. However the death rate for eating disorders is higher than any other psychiatric illness. Most of the time hospitals will declare a patient's death as something else, when really it was initially caused by the eating disorder. For example: cardiac arrest, suicide etc...

Even children are being subjected to society's cruel standards for living. Children as young as eight years old, who are normally aware of their surroundings, pick up on their mother's eating habits or their fathers intense work out schedule. Advertising doesn't help either, especially with all of the subliminal messages they give us every day. Girls are taught at a young age to be beautiful and perfect in every way, while young boys are taught to show no emotion and to act tough. In today's world , failure is not acceptable.

Despite the fact that society has a very powerful influence on us. We are still able to make our own choices. We shouldn't be fooled so easily, chances are if it seems to go to be true it probably is.

"I had a close friend who was suffering from anorexia nervosa. I remember how thin she became and how much I wanted to help but couldn't. All I could do was be there for her, listen and give advice, said Heather M. "Today she's very healthy and very happy with who she is".

Throughout my experience with anorexia nervosa I have learned so much from so many people. They have made an impression on me that will last throughout my life. Not only have they made me a better person, but they have taught me much about nutrition and about living a healthy lifestyle. Balance is essential to life as well as compassion for yourself. If there's one thing that I've learned it's that you have to be happy with who you are, you can't pretend to be someone else. If you care about who you are people will admire and respect you.

Having anorexia has been both a curse and at the same time a gift. No one has gone through what I've gone through. No one knows the pain I've endured or the success of being able to make it into recovery. I'm very proud of myself, so is my family and friends. I'm confident in others who share my pain that they will find a way into recovery.

If you have a friend or know someone who may have an eating disorder don't ignore it. If you are able to, talk to a guidance counsellor, the school nurse or even your doctor. Despite the fact that they may not be knowledgeable about this illness they maybe able to get in touch with someone who has the knowledge and the background to deal with the situation properly. The individual may not like the fact that your interfering with their life, but they will thank you in the future for saving their life.


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