Eating disorders and anorexia are becoming more commonplace today, and this is true particularly of young women, although older people and men sometimes also suffer from them. It is important to look at this issue as it relates to body image and how one feels about one's body, but also important to see it in the light of the way that one trust's oneself and others, and the hope for the future that is sometimes absent from the lives of these individuals. Such problems as depression can often play a large role in whether someone has problems with body image and eating disorders.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA, 2002) states that eating disorders' incidences have doubled within the past 20 years, and the average age range for an eating disorder is from 10-25 years old, with two peaks around 13-14 and 18-19 years old. These are the most critical times, when eating disorders are the most likely to develop. Approximately one out of ten adolescents and university students have eating disorders and almost 95% of them are female (Grilo, Masheb, & Wilson, 2001). This indicates that, although men are sometimes affected to this, eating disorders are largely a problem of the female population. Furthermore, five to ten million girls and women as well as one million males suffer from some type of eating disturbances (NEDA, 2002).
These may not be classified as disorders and may not be as significant as anorexia and bulimia, but they are still significant enough to be noticed and important to those that suffer from them and those that are trying to help these people recover from their eating problems. As reported by Manley & Leichner (2003), anorexia nervosa, one of the eating disorders, has the greatest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Much of this comes from the fact that this type of illness can cause someone to literally starve themselves to death, while still believing that they are fat. This type of disorder is very unhealthy, even if the patient survives, because the lack of proper food and the nutrition that comes with it is extremely hard on all of the systems of the body, especially when it goes on for an extended period of time. Some of these anorexic individuals battle this problem for years. The longer it goes on, the harder it is for them to overcome it and the larger toll it takes on their health, both mentally and physically.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 2001) indicates that the mortality rate for teenagers with eating disorders is 12 times higher than any other cause among females 15-24 years old. In most instances, death occurs due to starvation with serious body damages, leading to cardiac arrest, electrolyte imbalance, and suicide. The idea that suicide can stem from an eating disorder such as anorexia also indicates that many of these individuals may be suffering from other problems, such as anxiety disorders and depression, both of which have a relatively high rate of suicide.
According to Sansone & Levitt (2002), the presence of self-harm among eating disorders patients amounts to 25%. Anorexic patients attempting suicide total 16%, while bulimics amount to 23% outpatients and 39% inpatients. When alcoholism and bulimia co-exist, the rate of suicidal attempts rises to 54%. These statistics appear to be alarming, and are almost too large to comprehend, but they must be understood and dealt with so that the rates of these problems can come down. One of the main problems with this, however, is that these people often conceal their eating disorders for a very long time, and it is only realized when the person becomes so sick that they require a doctor's care. Bulimics also often maintain a normal weight range, so their binging and purging behavior can go unnoticed for quite some time, even by those that are close to them.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the criteria for an eating disorder includes a refusal to maintain body weight of at least 85% of what is expected for a specific age and height. Furthermore, inability to keeping weight at or above patterns, failure to accept weight gain during the growth period, and an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even when underweight, may also categorize eating disorders. Other factors include denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight and disturbance in the way one's body weight or shape is experienced on self-evaluation. In addition, eating disorders can be also categorized in girls whose menstrual cycles are absent for at least three consecutive months, although they have experienced menarche.
Eating disorders are characterized by behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. It varies from dieting to starving, from binging to strenuous exercising, from excessive eating to self-induced vomiting or other purging methods such as diuretics and laxatives. Eating disorders can be life threatening if not treated in a timely manner. Eating disorders are not due simply to failure of will or behavior, but to maladaptive eating patterns. In other words, these individuals lack the will power to change their behavior, but they have also gotten so caught up in the eating pattern that has led to the disorder that they are no longer aware of how to correct this, and often do not see that there is anything to correct. Those maladaptive patterns are usually treatable not only medically for several complications, such as kidney and heart conditions, but also psychologically, as in many cases they are accompanied by depression, anxiety, or chemical dependence (NIMH, 2001).
The concept of normal eating includes being able to choose enjoyable foods, eat when hungry and continue to eat until satisfied. Furthermore, normal eating allows giving oneself permission to eat without feeling guilty when feeling full. On the other side, eating disorders, disordered eating, and body intolerance are culturally informed and mediate problems. Those cases are growing in today's society. They are especially prevalent in the Western civilization, although researches are still seeking for the reason (Keel & Klump, 2003). It appears, however, that the media and how it represents women (i.e. you cannot be popular/pretty/wealthy/etc. unless you are thin) contributes quite strongly to these eating disorders.
Men and women approach anxieties about their body image and self-worth differently when thinking about their bodies. Females get their sense of self-worth from upholding caring relationships, whereas males tend to derive their self-worth from instrumental achievements. Men are more likely to use sexual perversion, masturbation, and pornography in an attempt to have their dependency needs met, and are more likely to be associated with their disillusioned narcissistic needs (Sands, 2003). Further research needs to be conducted on males and eating disorders, to find out why and how they are not as prone to disordered eating. Whether this is a by-product of the media and its images, whether men are just emotionally stronger in this regard, or whether there is some other mitigating factor should be considered. This is important, because there is clearly some reason that women are so much more prone to eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia than men are.
Women are more likely than men to keep their thoughts and feelings inside in order to avoid confrontations, and usually put the needs of others before their own needs in a way to maintain and solidify their relationships. Simultaneously, they are more prone to present themselves loving, compliant, caring, and nurturing, while suppressing anger and hostility. Since women are highly and emotionally influenced by their peer's evaluations and externalized self-perceptions, mostly from society standards, they are inclined to use those perceptions as their parameters to judge themselves. Furthermore, women experiencing eating disorders tend to use third person ideals and references to think about their own bodies as if seeing themselves through someone else's eyes (Frank & Thomas, 2003).
Ethics is also an important consideration in these eating disorders, although one might not connect the two things upon first examination. When psychologists treat patients, they look for the inner problems and the deeper meanings that manifest themselves in a particular disorder or problem. Often, these are ethical or moral in nature. The person might feel badly about their childhood, they may regret their lack of morals, they may have problems with peer pressure, etc. They also could be the victim of molestation, which would have to be reported to the police, regardless of whether the psychologist is supposed to keep the patient's information confidential. Because of these issues and others, teenagers and young women with eating disorders and the psychologists that are trying to help them must understand about ethical dilemmas and deal with them in the best way possible as they arise, so that the patient can receive the largest benefit.
The etiology of eating disorders is not fully determined. However, researches show that physical or genetic predisposition and neurobiological reasons (family history of eating disorders), psychological (family history of depression,…