Eating Disorder and Gender Research Paper

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Eating Disorders and Gender

There are medical conditions which more commonly occur in one gender over another. These conditions can be either mental or physical. Very often, they are both mental and physical conditions. Certain medical situations are extremely severe and can potentially result in serious harm to the body or perhaps even death. There are certain conditions which being with a mental impression, a false belief that has been ingrained within the mind which then manifests itself in the body of the individual. One of the most common and most disturbing types of condition is known as an eating disorder. By this term, it is meant that the patient suffers a mental conditioning which makes them either unwilling or unable to eat in a healthy manner resulting in either over or under eating and malnutrition. Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are the result of psychological issues on the part of the individual afflicted. They appear far more often in females than in males as a direct response to the psychology of the majority of society which imposes itself on the women of the world. What had once been considered a problem which only faced white women, the epidemic of eating disorders has transcended age and ethnicity to become a universal problem, sometimes even transcending gender boundaries and affecting men.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder according to the age-old adage. In certain times of history, a large woman was considered beautiful. Fleshy arms and legs with large breasts was the image that all women aspired to. A large woman meant that she was well-fed and very logically was in possession of a good deal of money and resources (Bates 1). This soft-bodied woman was however also vulnerable because she was unable to run as fast or exert herself physically. Her opposite, a hard body was a woman who had to work in the field and had little food to eat. In the modern era, the opposite perception is the case; those who are thin are beautiful and lusted after and women who are more full-bodied are considered unattractive. This new perception began around the mid to late 19th century. At that time, science and medicine began to grow in importance where before mythology and religion had been the major explanatory force in a person's life. In the middle 1800s, women were in the throw of a repressive Victorian regime where they were even more oppressed than perhaps ever before. They were meant to remain in their specified domestic sphere as opposed to participation in the outside world. They were marginalized and forced into isolation sometimes by doctors or psychiatrists who were becoming more popular and used more often. Part of this indoctrination into their separate sphere demanded a strict adherence to medically-prescribed diets. For women, this meant that they were not allowed to eat much meat but men were encouraged to eat more. This lack of meat denied women much needed protein and iron and made them physically weak, which was what men wanted, for men to be weak, subservient, and completely dependent on their strong men.

There are many different types of eating disorders which can affect people of all social classes, racial types, genders, and age groups. Most of the eating disorders either feature people who do not eat enough food or those who overeat. The most common disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (National1). Other conditions which are classified as eating disorders are rumination (painless regurgitation of food), diabulimia (deliberate manipulation of insulin levels by diabetics), pica (eating things which are not foods such as chalk or paper), night eating syndrome, orthorexia nervosa (where patients obsessively avoid eating unhealthy food to the point where it interferes with their day-to-day life), drunkorexia (avoiding food calories to have more room for alcohol-based ones), and pregorexia (extreme dieting to control weight gained during pregnancy). There is also a branch of eating disorder which is known as EDNOS or eating disorders not otherwise specified. Up to 70% of all eating disorders fall under the title of EDNOS (Battiste & Effron). This is because most people who suffer from an eating condition do not completely fitting into the restrictions of one classification or another. One young woman is chronicled in an ABC News special where she said, "My symptoms didn't match bulimia. So then thy diagnosed me as anorexia, binge / purge type, because there are two different types. And then I didn't meet the weight criteria for anorexia" (Battiste & Effron). Most people are classified as EDNOS patients because their symptoms either overlap or are asymptomatic of either anorexia or bulimia. Like other eating disorders, EDNOS can be extremely fatal. According to researchers, 5.2% of all EDNOS patients will die, a number that is higher than the fatality rates for either anorexia or bulimia (Battiste & Effron). Many of the sufferers will die from starvation or the effects of malnutrition, but a great many will die because of complications from the disorders which often impact the organs of the patient.

Anorexia nervosa is a very dangerous eating disorder characterized by refusing to eat or in consuming very little food; certainly not enough to sustain life. This condition is the one most commonly thought of when dealing with eating disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

Many people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Eating, food, and weight control become obsessions. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods. Some people with anorexia nervosa may also engage in binge-eating followed by extreme dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and/or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas (2).

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by: extreme thinness, a "relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight," "distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight," lack of menstruation in young girls, teens, and women, and a failure to eat much food and reluctance to do so (National 2). More serious symptoms can appear over time including thinning of bones, hair and nails becoming extremely brittle, dry or yellow skin, fine hair growing all over the body known as lanugo, anemia and muscle weakness, and constipation of great severity, low blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Even worse can be the damage to the heart, brain or other bodily organs, and even might cause a woman to become infertile. The longer a person has an eating disorder, the more damage that will be done to the body of the patient.

Another eating disorder which affects a large population of people is the condition known as bulimia nervosa. This is characterized by frequent and recurring episodes where a person will engage in eating a large amount of food which is followed by aggressive and obsessive behavior which compensates for the overeating. According to Steve Bloomfield of the Eating Disorders Association:

Sufferers of bulimia often present a happy front to the world but they usually feel deeply unhappy, experiencing strong emotions and erratic mood swings. They may endure extreme anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame and guilt. Away from others they may feel isolated and helpless…The irresistible urge to binge causes most of the behavioral signs of bulimia, although the binge eating sessions tend to occur when the sufferer is alone and able to binge secretly (69).

Those with bulimia engage in a cycle wherein "binge-eating is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors" (National 3). Binging which is a massive intake of food over a short period of time is followed by purging which is the forced removal of those food stuffs through some artificial means, usually in self-induced vomiting or in taking of massive amounts of laxatives to hurry digestion. Some of the effects of this condition include chronic sore throat, worn tooth enamel from constant exposure to stomach acids, acid reflux, dehydration, and intestinal distress from abusing the laxatives. Some people who suffer from binge eating disorders do so without the expunging methods which characterize bulimia.

There are three potential reasons which serve to explain why people become sick with eating disorders. The Mayo Clinic identifies them as biological, psychological, and social. Genetics and biology can impact a person and their likelihood of getting an eating disorder. If a person has a family member with a condition, science has shown they are more likely to develop one as well suggesting a possible genetic propensity for the condition (Staff). Researchers have been able to prove a relationship between serotonin levels and the likelihood of an eating disorder. Serotonin is a chemical made by the brain which may have an impact on a person's self-esteem or self-awareness. A person with…[continue]

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