Look at any newspaper, magazine, billboard, movie or TV show. The women portrayed therein are getting thinner and thinner by the day. If they turn sideways, they’ll probably be invisible, or near enough. Every single day, the sensibilities of women in the modern world are bombarded with images that equate beauty with thinness. Even if you are a level-headed, educated woman, you cannot help but be affected by these images and begin to view yourself as unworthy if you do not meet those ludicrous standards. The media mind control affects women of all age groups.
What’s worrying is that children as young as 4 are beginning to view themselves as ‘not good enough’ because they do not look emancipated like over 95% of the women portrayed in the media. You know where this is going – eating disorders.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just teenage girls and younger women who suffer from eating disorders. Media has perpetuated the idea that thin is beautiful so widely and so profoundly in every way possible that even women in their 50s and 60s can develop eating disorders and die from them. Men are affected too, but in smaller numbers.
So what is an eating disorder exactly? It’s actually a psychological condition that leads to abnormal behaviours when it comes to food, i.e., eating way too much, eating too little or not at all, and eating but throwing up after.
Types of Eating Disorders:
There are three main types of eating disorders.
when you eat very little or practically nothing at all.
You eat whatever you want, often foods and beverages very high in fat and calories, and then head to the bathroom to force-vomit it all out or take far too many laxatives to purge everything you have eaten.
Constantly over-eating without exercising, thus leading to a massive weight gain in a very short time and finding great difficulty in losing weight.
Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Women
Usually, when people talk about eating disorders, they think of skinny models starving themselves. So it is generally very skinny girls who are thought to have an eating disorder and the first sign that people look for is quick weight loss. However, a remarkable weight loss is not the only symptom of an eating disorder. After all, people lose weight through healthy means everyday. Plus, one of the weight disorders – binge eating – does not lead to weight loss but to weight gain. However, some people can binge eat and still maintain a steady weight.
So just because someone has lost plenty of weight or have put on a lot of weight does not necessarily mean that they have an eating disorder. You have to look at other physical factors as well as any change in behaviour to form an accurate diagnosis.
- Extreme weight loss is indeed one of the symptoms of an eating disorder. Look for a slight hollowing out of the cheeks, a very stark clavicle, and a gauntness around the joints.
- Amenorrhoea is often a symptom of anorexia nervosa as well as bulimia when too much weight has been lost.
- Thinning hair is another sign of an eating disorder. Lack of nutrition prevents the body from giving priority to the skin and hair. So hair can get dry, dull, have more split ends than usual, and even fall out a lot. The skin may break out or become dull, dry, sallow and often flaky.
- Brittle nails are another sign of an eating disorder. Discoloration may also occur.
- Bad breath is a symptom that can often be covered up by eating lots of mint or brushing teeth very often. So this is a hard one to catch.
- There may be tingling in the feet and hands. The lack of nutrition affects the nervous system too, which in turn leads to the psychological problems which we’ll see in a bit.
- Shaky hands will occur when the body is low on sugar, often a sign of anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
- In cases of bulimia, the oesophagus and the anal passage may get small tears or ulcers.
- Excessive exercising is common among those with anorexia nervosa and sometime bulimia.
- Another symptom of an eating disorder is insomnia.
These are much harder to catch than the physical symptoms, but they are the signs that are more important to look out for.
- An obsession with food-related activities is a surprising but pretty reliable sign of an eating disorder. There may be a sudden interest in cooking, shopping for foods, preparation of ingredients for a dish, trying out a new restaurant. While all these activities revolve around food, notice that when it comes to actually eating the food there will be plenty of ways to avoid the actual act such as playing with food, making excuses not to eat the meal that has been cooked, finding ways to avoid meal times such as an over-full schedule.
- With any eating disorder, there is a general avoidance of eating around people.
- Binge eaters will often stash food away to eat later when they are alone because there is a sense of shame at the amount of food that is eaten.
- Because an eating disorder is a very emotionally trying experience, it is very difficult for those affected to maintain social contact. Another reason to avoid interaction is so that there is no chance of having to eat around people – as is bound to happen at some point when being social – as this is the most horrifying thing to someone with anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
- Counting calories in every single bite of food, even a nibble on a grape.
- Cutting out entire categories of food.
- Eating disorders are born of a distorted body image, but that distortion goes to a whole new level in the later stages of the eating disorder. Even extreme thinness may be seen as ‘too fat’. This distortion is a pre-cursor to eating disorders and should be addressed immediately, especially in children.
- Most people with eating disorders are terrified of putting on even the tiniest bit of weight. So they will weigh themselves every single day, often several times a day. In case there is a real or imagined weight gain, there will follow a crazy pattern of over-exercising, fasting or cutting far too many calories in an attempt to lose it.
- Wearing over-sized clothes to hide either a skinny frame or ballooning weight.
- Lower levels of productivity will occur as there is an over-obsession with food and weight loss so the mind has little room for anything else.
- Extreme mood swings are common because the nervous system is affected by the lack of nutrition.
Risks and Complications of Eating Disorders
There may be people who can survive on sunshine and fresh air but at this point of our evolution, most humans need to eat to survive. Period.
Without food, the body does not have the fuel it needs to function. Without food for a very long time, death from starvation will occur – between 20 and 30 percent of people with eating disorders die each year – but not before you have suffered from the complications born of the eating disorder.
The long periods without sufficient nutrition in cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia lead to higher risk of several diseases including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blood pressure issues, diabetes, tooth and gum disease, and a host of psychological issues like depression.
Binge eating is a sure-fire way to become obese. Obesity has a number of complications in and of itself from depression, diabetes and heart disease to a lower mortality rate.
Not to mention that each day with any eating disorder means having to live with low energy levels, headaches, nausea, aches and pains, constipation, dehydration, weakness, muscle cramps, and a general sense of hating life because you hate yourself.
Treatment and Prevention of Eating Disorders in Women
An eating disorder is not something you begin to fix on a physical level. The main idea is obviously to eat in a more reasonable manner. But force is not the answer and will only serve to reinforce the beliefs that caused the eating disorder in the first place.
An eating disorder has to be treated from the inside out. There are several issues of the mind that need to be resolved before any physical change can even be contemplated. Resurrection of self-esteem, revamping body image and questioning culture and the media are just some of the ways in which to begin treating an eating disorder. Who are the media anyway? Why let them decide what your body should look like? Where did these stupid ideas of thin being beautiful come from? Why should you listen when it’s so obviously harming you? Why let someone else dictate what you should be doing with your life when it makes you so miserable? Question your motives for your behaviour.
Meanwhile, group therapy as well as cognitive behavioural therapy can be a big help in treatment.
In extreme cases of eating disorders, hospitalization may be required to restore nutrition to a malnourished body.
As for preventing eating disorders, the only way to do that is to keep a watch on your thoughts and seek help when you find yourself thinking about your body and weight in a way that you know will lead to the eating disorder. Education is a big and very important key here. Learning about what is an ideal body weight for you, developing healthy eating habits and having a strong friend or family support system are all ways to prevent this harmful psychological condition from taking over your life.