If there is one aspect of life over which the media has great influence, it is the conception of beauty, especially among women. The media’s presentation of feminine beauty is modeled around tall, slim, and lean female bodies. The general perception created by this media portrayal of the ideal female figure is that fat and overweight bodies are ugly and less desirable. Indeed, this is the one idea that has been ingrained into society’s collective psych. The impact of this trend is that individuals who consider themselves fat or overweight resort to weight-losing strategies to attain the desired figure. In turn, the desire to attain the ideal body figure leads to unhealthy eating habits, which in the long run cause lead to an eating disorder known as anorexia. This essay discusses the causes, symptoms, demographic prevalence and treatment of anorexia.
Definition and Manifestation of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a conscious desire to lose weight harboring intense fears about gaining it (Yager, 2005). Individuals suffering from anorexia may wish to lose weight even when they are actually underweight in light of their age or height. When this conditions becomes chronic, it is potentially life-endangering due to reluctance to maintain an average body weight within the limits of one’s normal weight (by less or excess of 15 percent).In addition to anxiety about gaining weight, anorexic patients also exhibit other eating disorders like having a distorted body image, amenorrhea (missing menstrual cycles) and denial to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.
Anorexia manifests itself in two subcategories. There’s a restrictive subtype, whereby individuals strive to maintain minimum body weight solely by restricting their diet- minimizing the amount of food consumed. In addition, they may engage in excessive physical exercising as a means of burning out any extra body weight gained or maintaining their current state. Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford School of Medicine notes that ““Restrictive eating and overexercise contribute to the maintenance of anorexic thinking,” (qtd in Digitale, 2010). The second subtype is associated with people with binge eating behaviors- in addition to restricting their food intake they indulge in purging /discharge behaviors such as inducing throw ups/vomiting immediately after meals. They also use appetite suppressing drugs like enemas and laxatives, or diuretics to increase the rate of urination so as to lose boy fluids. However, there is no clear distinction between the two subtypes because individuals tend to move forth and back between binge eating and dieting in the duration of their illness. The associated effects such as abnormal weight loss, starvation and related health complications are risky health wise, and may in the long run result in death. That is why it is vital to recognize signs of anorexia early on and consult a health therapist.
Although in the literal sense the term “anorexia” refers to loss of appetite, its meaning is deeper than poor appetite as it encompasses a range of meanings. Thus, anorexic patients may in fact have appetite, but instead of eating, they choose to ignore/suppress hunger signals. In this regard, anorexia can be understood as a conscious effort or desire to control eating habits. Such people may in fact be good cooks who prepare food for others and are constantly engaged in coming up with appealing recipes. However, they will not eat the food they cook. At the same time, anorexic behaviors can be deceptive in people who exercise frequently as this can be mistaken for healthy lifestyles, when in reality the individual is anxious about gaining weight.
Individuals prone to developing anorexia
Like most abnormal eating habits, anorexia tends to occur during teenage hood and after puberty. In some cases, however, it can be a life-time condition whereby the individuals are permanently concerned about their weight. The condition is more prevalent among young women and female adolescents, mainly because of these groups’ consciousness about their body image/physical appearances (Yager, 2005). Of course there are rare cases in which boys, older men and women suffer from anorexia, but the symptoms are not as serious and long lasting as in younger females. As noted before, the major reason for younger females’ vulnerability is their obsession with the ideal body figure, and they go into extremes in observing diets that will enable them to attain the perfect image as portrayed by the media and lifestyle publications (Wykes & Gunter, 2005, p. 196). In the U.S., for example, estimates suggest that more than fifty percent of American females develop anorexia at one point in their life, and that they account for more than ninety percent of all cases of anorexia. Consequently, “the disorder has been characterized as primarily a woman's illness” (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2012). The obsession to diet as a means of attaining the perfect body figure is a reflection of the contemporary society’s superficial conception of beauty, which in turn puts pressure on image-conscious female adolescents.
Media advertisements are particularly responsible for conditioning people into believing that slimness is the ideal measure of beauty. Other groups that are exposed to the risk of eating disorders include actors/actresses, fashion models, athletes, TV presenters, and dancers, whose careers require them to have lean and thin bodies as well as project appealing mages on TV and in public. It gives them psychological confidence because they are conscious of their meeting the standards that reflect society’s perception of ideal beauty. Anorexic patients may point to the sense of being in charge with regards to their weight and eating habits as an indication of their ability to control other aspects life aspects such as career growth and managing their finances. While on the surface this may appear bold statements, it may hide anxieties related to anorexia; they tend to interpret their obsession with body image positively to escape the reality and seriousness of their problem.
Weight Loss Strategies used by People with Anorexia
The major approach that anorexic patients employ to lose weight is reducing the total amount of food they consume. They avoid fatty and high-calorie foods, with some avoiding meat altogether. Most reduce their calorie intake to below 1,000 calories a day, which is not sufficient to meet the body’s biological/physiological needs. This is because they eliminate foods that are usually rich in protein and substitute them with low-calorie foods, vegetables, fat-free foods such as popcorns, beverages, water, and other diet drinks (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2012). Others resort to over-exercising to shed extra body fats or avoid gaining extra weight.
Common Signs and Symptoms
- Obsession with one’s physical appearance- body size
- Preoccupation with food – conscious awareness of what type of food to take or avoid
- Feeling uncomfortable about one’s normal body weight
- Brittle hair and nails, and dry yellowish skin
- Hypothermia (feeling cold) because of low metabolism which results in low body temperature
- Developing odd eating habits such as slicing it into small pieces
- Avoiding eating with people
- Preparing good meals that they don’t eat (Shepphird, 2010).
Research studies indicate that anorexia is curable with the right treatment therapies. The major focus should be regaining lost weight and maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle. Early diagnosis is crucial for recovery because it allows individuals the opportunity to reverse the disorder before it gets chronic and life threatening. In case the disorder reaches a chronic level, the patient should be hospitalized to restore lost weight and stabilize their dangerously underweight condition.
In addition, families and support groups are beneficial to the patient’s gaining confidence and developing a positive self-image. After medication, patients should be gaged in family and group-based therapies along with psychiatric counseling to help them adopt a positive attitude about their normal body weight and physical appearance (Digitale, 2010). This is especially necessary to deal with “underlying emotional and psychological” issues such as preoccupation with body image and how others may perceive them.
In conclusion, anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by preoccupation with food, an obsession with body image, fear of gaining weight and the desire to lose it. Individuals with anorexia often watch their diets by being selective on what they eat, consuming negligible amounts of food, and avoiding high-calorie/fattening foods. In addition, they over-exercise in attempts to burn out extra body fats and slim down. The condition can be treated through medication, family and group-based therapies, and attending psychiatric counseling sessions to help patients develop a positive attitude about their self-image and physical appearance/normal body weight.