Every day teenagers deal with the stresses of school, sex,
drugs and alcohol among others. As an added pressure, they are
now bombarded with society's obsession with thinness and unrealistic
views of the ideal body.
More and more often, teenagers are choosing to deal with these
pressures in harmful ways, such as the use of drugs and alcohol,
physical and verbal abuse and suicide. Now there are eating disorders
to add to the list. Given that 90% of females say they are dissatisfied
with their bodies, we cannot be surprised that Anorexia Nervosa,
Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating
are becoming common methods for young people to deal with emotional
pain. Anorexia Nervosa
and Bulimia Association.
disorders are all life-threatening and life-destroying diseases.
Significant weight loss caused by an eating disorder can have
dire effects. Loss of fat padding around heart, loss of body
fat under the skin, lowered body temperature, diminished muscle
mass, amenorrhea (loss of three or more consecutive menstrual
cycles), dental erosion, heart palpitations and other heart problems,
and mild anemia are a few of the less serious effects. These
diseases can also have a more extreme result -- death.
Acceptance of one's body is something that many people are
struggling to come to terms with. The media's portrayal of the
human body seems to be becoming increasingly unrealistic. This
is especially true for the media's ideas of the beautiful woman.
Take for example the television and movie stars that are frequently
on the covers of fashion magazines (Sarah Michelle Cellar, Calista
Flockhart, Gwyneth Paltrow and Courtenay Cox),all considered
beautiful, yet all extremely thin.
However, eating disorders are not just about the ideal weight
or shape. Many things contribute to the development of an eating
disorder. Among these are family environment, societal environment
and internal conflicts. According to the St. Paul's Hospital
Eating Disorder Program one third of these people have suffered
or are suffering from sexual abuse. People must learn to realize
that eating disorders are about underlying issues such as low
self esteem, the need for control, and the inability to trust
one's own feelings, rather than simply about food. These issues
are replaced with a constant need to reach an unattainable goal,
perfection. Purging, fasting, binging, vomiting and compulsive
exercise are common cycles in the eating disorder process. These
serve as release and numbing mechanisms.
One common misconception about eating disorders is that they
can be fixed overnight. They are a complex and addictive cycle,
and like other addictions, the road to recovery is a long and
difficult process. Before a person suffering from an eating disorder
can start to take back their life, there are many barriers that
they must overcome. The average treatment program can take anywhere
from three to five years, though 15%-20% of victims are never
cured and 20% will die (this includes suicide).
too much of a good thing?
Amy Erickson and Erica Summers
is considered to be an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
However, it can sometimes be taken to the extreme. Often linked
with the eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa,
compulsive exercise is considered another way to "purge"
is more often found in athletes who are involved in sports which
promote a thin appearance. These sports include swimming, gymnastics,
running, wrestling and figure skating. Compulsive exercise and
eating disorders are, in many of these sports, ignored if not
People who compulsively
exercise take exercising very seriously, exercising more often
and working harder for longer periods of time than is considered
safe or normal.
This type of
compulsive behavior often interferes with normal everyday activities
including social life, work and school. Compulsive exercising
often follows binging to rid the sufferer from any guilt caused
If you think
that you demonstrate the behaviors associated with compulsive
exercising, contact the National Eating Disorder Information
Center or the Eating Disorder Resource Center of B.C.
Although it can be frustrating and difficult to understand
why a person is suffering from a disease that seems self inflicted,
patience and support is vital in the recovery process. While
only the victim can decide to get help, there are some things
that you can do to support them. Among these are:
- express your concern about their health without invading
- avoid making any comments on their appearance (including
- avoid trying to tempt or force them into eating,
- examine your own ideas and biases to ensure that you are
not unknowingly conveying prejudice against people who aren't
- don't blame them for their disease
- don't take on the role of a therapist
- The best thing to do for them is to be there to support them
and to listen when they decide that they need to talk.
Ruby is The Body Shop's new
spokeswoman, a tireless crusader in the company's efforts to
help enhance the self-esteem of Canadians.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of the different eating disorders
might help you to realize if you or someone you know needs help.
Many of the signs are general and apply to more than one eating
disorder, such as claims of feeling fat when weight is low or
normal, guilt or shame about eating and moodiness, irritability,
abnormal eating patterns, fascination with food and depression.
Others are more specific, such as hoarding food, self induced
vomiting and wrestling and figure skating. Compulsive exercise
and eating extreme loss of body weight in the absence of a related
Eating disorders are life-threatening, so it is important
that an eating disorder victim get help as soon as they possibly
can. Admitting to having a problem and to needing help is the
first step to any recovery. Seeking professional help is second.
Finding a center and personal counselor that you feel at ease
with will help to make the recovery process easier. The one thing
that counselors can not stress enough is that one session, or
one month of therapy will not and cannot cure you.
Editor's note: This article originally
appeared in The Wailer, the school newspaper
Did you know?
- 90 % of women
are dissatisfied with their bodies
- The average
weight of Miss America decreased from 135 lbs to 105 lbs between
1960 and 1990
- 15-20% of the
Canadian population suffers from either Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia
- The average
length of treatment of an eating disorder lasts from 3-5 years
When choosing a counselor, there are many things to consider.
Have they dealt with patients suffering from eating disorders
before? Ask how many and how successful these treatments have
been. If your eating disorder is severe, you may be referred
to a treatment program. There are many aspects involved in treatment
for eating disorders. Education about the disorders, restoration
of weight, individual and group therapy are among these.
Eating disorders are a serious and very common occurrence
among teenagers today. Thankfully, these diseases are starting
to be taken more seriously. There are many doctors, therapists,
centers and programs out there to help those with eating disorders
to recover and to begin to lead a better life. Check out some
of these organizations
for more information.
at Port Hardy Secondary School in Port Hardy, British Columbia.