Psychological aspects of Anorexia Nervosa

During the past century the quantity and the variety of foods available to people has been increased dramatically. Today almost every citizen can enter the grocery store, and buy a variety of foods there from all over the world, at quite a decent price. Globalization made different kinds of food available to the contemporary people, thus, nowadays, people are much more food centered than they were a century or two ago. Food has become a mean of socialization, a way to have fun, and to be distracted from various problems.

Jonathan Carroll, a contemporary American fantasy-fiction writer wrote that “food is sex for the old”. He was mistaking. In the contemporary world food has become sex for almost everyone. Why should one care for to build a strong and lasting relationship, for to get the emotional response from the partner, if there is always a thing near him or her that would never betray, or refuse him/her because of some misunderstanding or offence? Food is always there, ready to comfort and to give satisfaction. Building relationship with food is much easier than with people that surround us.

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Such an attitude has lead to the dramatic increase in the quantity of eating disorders among the U. S citizens. Nowadays millions of people suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia Nervosa, or Binge eating. In this paper we are going to discuss Anorexia Nervosa, a disorder that leads to the distorted apprehension of ones body, and changes the attitude towards food and physical exercise. To talk about the psychological aspect of Anorexia Nervosa we should first define, what is iis it, and what the symptoms of this disorder are.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), fourth edition, Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by a refusal eat that leads to a below normal body weight. According to the DSM IV, the symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
  • Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight Infrequent or absent menstrual periods (in females who have reached puberty)
  • Rules are invented regarding how much food is allowed and how much exercise is needed after eating certain amounts of food
  • Those suffering from anorexia pursue a very low ‘ideal’ weight
  • Sufferers may feel bloated, even after a small meal
  • The loss of the interest in interest in socializing with friends
  • Tiredness, feeling cold, constipation and stomachache (Powell, Sharpe, 2005) The University of Cincinnati researchers estimates that the quantity of women in the U. S who suffer from various eating disorders is nearly 10 million women, and one million men. (USA: Anorexic nation? , 2005).

Thus, as you see, most of the patients with eating disorders are women, but there are also men, who suffer from them. Young women and adolescents are usually the ones very conscious about their appearance. Regardless of the race, ethnicity or the social status most young women all over the world long to look beautiful regardless of the price they would have to pay for it.

The questionnaires show that more than sixty percent of women would agree to give a year of their lives in exchange for the ideal shape. In our society slenderness is considered to be one of the main signs of women’s good looks and attractiveness, and it is widely promoted in the magazines, newspapers, and TV shows. Adolescent and young women long to look like the models do, regardless of the fact that most of those are considerably underweight. The statistic says that while the normal percentage of fat in a woman’s body is about 23%, top-models usually have no more than 10% of fat in their bodies.

Besides, women who appear on the magazines’ covers usually have very long legs, and small breast, which is uncharacteristic for most of the females that dwell on our planet. Thus, it is no wonder that most women do not have any chances to look like the models do. (Costin, 1999) Unfortunately, only a small part of adolescent and young woman realizes this fact. The statistic says that nowadays 80% of female eight-graders are conscious about their weight and are dieting for to reach the ideal body parameters.

Of course most of them realize that the food limitations should be rational, and that maintaining health is of much greater importance than ideal parameters, but it usually happens much later, when lots of those dieting girls had already managed to spoil their digestive and endocrine system, together with the hair, nails and skin. Anorexia Nervosa is not selective; it develops in women of all races and social statuses, as almost all of those women read magazines and watch the TV shows. The fact is Anorexia rarely develops in women older than thirty.

It may be explained by the fact that at this age most women are already positive about their body image, they have the experience of relationships, and they know that the size is not what matters the most for success in career and personal matters. Analyzing the symptoms described we can conclude that Anorexia is not only physically and psychologically harmful, but it also affect the social image of people who are suffering from it. Eating disorders are still considered to be something disgraceful in our society, thus the women who suffer from it are often ashamed to turn for the counselor for help.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are still seen as something a person develops consciously, thus he or she might be blamed for his/her condition. Besides, the symtoms of anorexia arouse antipathy in most people. Those are the main reasons, for which women with eating disorders usually suffer not only of their condition, but also of the perception their surroundings have of it. One of the most scaring things about Anorexia is that a person can live with it for years, even if she is sharing the apartment with parents or partner, and no one will notice it.

It’s still in our society that eating habits are considered to be private and not a subject for criticism; questions and comments on the eating habits may be handled as a the interference to the private life, and thus ignored. Many people whose parents, children, siblings or partners have the symptoms of eating disorders prefer not to notice them, as they are afraid that comment on this topic may insult the person and ruin the relationship. Thus women who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa often do not get any psychological help or support in their families.

Lots of girls and young women, who have Anorexia at early stages, are still able to stop by themselves, without pharmaceutical treatment. The important thing is to persuade them that the condition they have is dangerous for both their physical health and emotional well-being. Laura J. Goodman, Mona Villapiano, the authors of the Eating Disorders: The Journey to Recovery Workbook note, that even taking into consideration that most women nowadays know what Anorexia is, those, who suffer from this disorder, often refuse to confess it even to themselves.

One of the tasks of the counselor, who treats the person with this disorder, is to help her realize she is really ill, and that she has to do something about it. It is not an easy thing to do, as for to ensure that the patient agrees to the treatment the counselor has to make sure that he/she hasn’t insulted the feelings of the patient. And, as the researchers say, the feelings of the Anorexia patients are very easy to insult. Women, who suffer from Anorexia are over-conscious about their body, and when some of their relatives, friends, or even doctors say something is wrong with it, the patient usually feels insulted, and acts accordingly.

Patients, who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa have distorted attitudes towards food. For them food means much more than it does for ordinary people. Anorexics blame food for all the problems and difficulties the encounter on their life path, the y feel that food is what makes them ugly, eating makes them feel guilty, thus they try to consume as little food as it is possible. For them food is an enemy they are unable to defeat, as their body betrays them and longs for nutrition.

It is known that 10% (Costin, 1999) of anorexics die from their illness, as there happen to be no one near them for to note that their weight is too low, and that they eat too little for to maintain normal existence. Those are the people who actually managed to win in their fight with food, and every anorexic is potentially capable of it. Thus the patient, suffering from anorexia, should be persuaded to confess the condition to relatives or friends, especially if it is enhancing, for not to let her starve and die, in case the patient decides to refuse from counseling and treatment.

Anorexics actually don’t have any interests in their lives rather that loosing weight or maintaining the “healthy” level of it. They are mostly talking about diets and dieting, spending their time in endless workouts and conversations about healthy food. For to maintain contact with them it is a good idea to offer them some tips about healthy dieting and exercising. It will in the same time keep the conversation to the topic, which is interesting for the patient, and present her with some helpful tips for coping with her disorder and restoring her health.

The amount of information young people get from watching movies and TV shows cannot be overestimated. The researchers add that TV has a potential for forming social values, and dictating them to the young viewers, and teach them about stereotypes and behaviors existing in the society. The pressure to have bodies like the one’s displayed in the movies, shows, and advertisements that media exposes adolescent and youth to, leads to having negative feelings for one’s body among this group of viewers.

A meta-analysis conducted by Groesz, Levine, ; Murmen in 2002 revealed that after viewing the images of thin females the participants felt much worse about their bodies than after viewing the media images that were average or plus size. The research in 2001 by Vartanian et al showed that it was the influence of the media that was the most significant predictor of overall body satisfaction among females who were getting college education. In addition the research showed that the media also impacts overall body dissatisfaction among men, though less than among females.

The authors concluded that the influence of media on forming of the body image is growing both among men and women. In the same time, Green and Pritchard (2003) showed that while media influences had significant impact on female’s apprehension of their looks, men’s body image wasn’t formed by TV. It differs from the results Vartanian et al showed, which said that men are influenced by the TV images of thin and slender people. This difference in results may be explained by the fact that while Vartanian et al, chose college students as their research group, Green and Pritchard, didn’t.

The authors assume that male college students consume more TV than the adults, who were the research group in the research conducted by Green and Pritchard, do. Hamilton and Waller (1993) found that when young woman with eating disorders watch fashion shows they tend to overestimate their body weight. Those researchers noted that the regular exposure to images of very thin women displayed in the media may provoke the development of illness in people who are predisposed to Anorexia Nervosa.

The reason is that models, displayed on TV screen, often reach the unrealistic shapes they have by strict dieting and lots of exercising, the two things which may indicate the development of Anorexia. Patients suffering from eating disorders need various treatments for to restore the healthy eating habits. Therapy of this type of disorders has to be complex, thus the counselors has to develop a comprehensive treatment plan, which involves food counseling, psychological interventions, and, when appropriate, medication management. (Eating Disorders: Facts about Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions, 2001).