This is an article I wrote for an online magazine called Sweet Designs
Image is always an important factor, especially in our teenage years. Our personal image is high up on our priority list. Everyone feels there is something wrong with them - big bum, fat thighs, fat tummy, you name it; we will always find something that makes us unhappy with our image. So we exercise and go on diets, but what happens when we go to the extreme?
People who take dieting, exercise, and weight loss to the extreme are at a high risk of suffering from an eating disorder. There are three common forms of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Within this article I will be giving information and stories about these different eating disorders.
It started when I was in my third year of secondary school that I stopped eating proper lunches. I just had half a sandwich and a glass of water, no breakfast either, then when I got home from school I would go out with friends, asking my mum to give me money for dinner, but never actually buying anything. I'd tell my friends that I'd already eaten or that I was having dinner when I got home later that night. But I wouldn't. I'd look in the mirror and wonder who it was looking back at me. I saw bulges of fat on my stomach. My friends used to say I was fine how I was, but I never really believed them.
Anorexia is when someone develops a fear of weight gain, and therefore reduces their food intake until they are starving themselves. Although they will begin to lose an unhealthy amount of weight in a short period of time, the victim will perceive their body image as 'fat' and will therefore continue to eat as little as possible.
Hannah,* 18, from the UK, has suffered with a mild form of anorexia since she was 15, but is slowly recovering.
After a few months my best friend Gina* started to notice the weight I was rapidly losing and would buy me Happy Meals from McDonalds, and say it was rude not to eat it when she'd spent her money on it, so I would eat it. Eating made me feel ill and disgusting within myself. I used to feel fat and bloated even after eating a kids meal. Gina kept buying me food when we went out and her mum would make me sandwiches when I went around, but I wouldn't eat at home. Then in my fourth year I met my current boyfriend, Mark*. He was so nice to me about my weight and made me feel good about my appearance so I began to eat properly again. But our relationship started to go downhill and I returned to the fat girl in the mirror. I'd cry for hours, asking why I was so fat and ugly. Mark would sit there eating in front of me, not offering me anything to eat, which made me think he agreed that I didn't need to. I became horribly thin again; my hips were really sticking out and my ribs were very visible.
Once again Gina noticed and asked me about my eating habits. I told her I didn't want to eat and that I wanted to lose weight, but she just told me I was already too skinny to lose weight, and asked if she could tell someone who could help me. I refused, but agreed that she could help me and that I would eat more to gain weight.
I'm still underweight three years later and I faint quite often from lack of food, but I am recovering, I've realised that it's in my head and only seem to not eat when I'm upset, angry, or nervous about things happening in my life. I feel lucky in a way that I haven't suffered with a major form of anorexia and that I'm able to recover a lot easier than some cases.
What Are the Symptoms of Anorexia?
Physical: Severe weight loss, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, poor circulation, and feeling cold.
Behavioural: Wearing baggy clothes, excessive exercising, denial, and lack of concentration.
Psychological: Depression, intense fear of gaining weight, mood swings, and feeling guilty after eating.
It all started when Amy* was 13, I was 10, and we had to rush to the hospital because Amy* had collapsed in the bathroom. I remember crying as I hugged her unconscious body, worried about whether she was going to be ok. What had happened to my older sister?
The next most common eating disorder is bulimia. Those who suffer from bulimia seem to do the opposite from those with anorexia. They tend to consume a lot of food in one session, but then, usually in secret, make themselves vomit or take laxative tablets so no weight is actually gained. Although they are eating enough calories to keep their bodies healthy, the constant vomiting or toilet use can damage their digestive tract, mouth, teeth, and salivary glands. The yo-yo pattern of their diet can also mean that those with bulimia rarely take in enough vitamins and minerals to remain healthy.
Lucy* 19, doesn't suffer from bulimia but tells the story about her older sister Amy*, who is now 22.
After several tests the doctors said that Amy* was suffering with bulimia and that she was trying to make herself vomit after dinner, but had slipped and bashed her head on the seat and then fell unconscious in her own vomit. She had to stay overnight to be monitored by the doctors whilst I questioned mum and dad about bulimia half the night. They didn't explain it very well at first; being so young I wouldn't have understood regardless. After that she was sent away for several weeks at a time to a special clinic and only came home some weekends. Thankfully, after a year, Amy* was well again and remained at a healthy weight. She continued to visit the special clinic once a month for a further year to make sure she was recovering properly.
What Are the Symptoms of Bulimia?
Physical: Sore throat/swollen glands, stomach pains, dry or poor skin, difficulty sleeping, damaged or sensitive teeth.
Behavioural: Eating lots of food in one go, being sick after eating, being secretive, abusing laxatives.
Psychological: Feeling guilty after eating, feeling ashamed, depressed and guilty, mood swings and feeling out of control.
What Are the Symptoms of Binge Eating?
At last, but certainly not least, the final eating disorder is binge eating. People with a binge eating disorder also consume a lot of food in one sitting, but unlike bulimics they do not get rid of the food they have consumed by vomiting or taking laxative tablets, and therefore often become obese as a result of the high food intake. This can then lead to a wide range of side effects in the long-term, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Physical: Weight gain.
Behavioural: Eating a lot, eating inappropriate foods, being sensitive.
Psychological: Mood swings, feeling depressed and out of control, emotional behaviour, and feeling guilty after eating.
All the causes for eating disorders are still being researched. However, researchers have found some psychological, interpersonal, and social factors which can lead to an eating disorder.
Psychological Factors: Low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness.
Interpersonal Factors: Troubled family and personal relationships, difficulty expressing emotions and feelings, history of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight, history of physical or sexual abuse.
Social Factors: Cultural pressures that glorify "thinness" and place value on obtaining the "perfect body", narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes, cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths.
If, for any reason, you feel you or someone you know is suffering with any of these eating disorders, don't suffer in silence. Tell someone.
Visit these websites, where you can find more information about signs, factors, and treatments. Or, visit your family doctor.