The Development of Eating Disorders

Cassidy Pearson, Feature Editor

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“Someone with an eating disorder is going to wake up feeling badly about themselves. They are going to start obsessing about food and feeling mad for either binging or eating the night before. As they approach their first meal it is almost their first test of the day. They wonder if they will eat at all. So they go against the hunger through distracting themselves. At school they will stress about lunch. They feel like everyone will judge if they are or aren’t eating. They are conscious about if anyone is noticing. Towards the middle of the day they are feeling the physical effects of being hungry. They will be fatigued, tired, and irritable. Because of these moods they want to have control in feeling better. They will go home and begin to stress about dinner, especially if they have to eat with their family. They are likely going to find an excuse to not eat with the family, avoiding food at dinner. By the end of the evening they are going to assess how well they did. They might exercise more in the evening to make up for the food they ate during the day. They go to bed feeling depressed, down about themselves, not good enough, and hungry. With hope that they will do better tomorrow”, states Skagit Valley eating disorder specialist Denise Castro. This is a day in the life of someone with an eating disorder.

Denise Castro explains how society is constantly morphing the way we view our bodies. The very own flesh that covers are skin and rolls that keep our body warms are always changing in perspective. Sometimes we imagine our bodies to be perfectly thin. Seeing only skin and bone is the ideal body shape that some individuals who suffer from eating disorders wish to have.

In some social aspects being paper thin is practically required. Careers such as modeling and acting promote being thin and sports such as gymnastics, ballet, rowing, diving, wrestling, and long distance running can encourage weight fluctuations. However, eating disorders are developed in many ways. Some leading causes of eating disorders are divided into psychological, biological, and environmental factors.

Psychological factors are pushed onto the individual by society. Negative body image and poor self esteem created by society can typically lead to the development of an eating disorder. Biological factors are not controlled by the subject. Having irregular hormone functions, nutritional deficiencies, or unusual genetics have large impacts on the development of eating disorders. Finally, environmental factors that are caused by how other people interact with each other and the subject. Careers and sports would fall under as environmental factors, as long as having a dysfunctional family dynamic, childhood traumas, cultural peer pressures, or stressful transitions.

All of these factors can lead to someone choosing to go against the natural instinct of eating and develop an eating disorder. Castro stated; “I think the main factors are cause when a patient struggles with valuing their self worth. Struggling with self worth and looking at their own body image and not thinking it is good enough. Wanting a different body type and having high external standards on what is the ideal.”

Castro claims that along with having low self worth another main reason that eating disorders are developed is because of the need for control. “Many humans are aware that life is out of control. For teenagers, especially women, one thing we can control is how we eat and when we eat. A sense of control can give a sense of empowerment. We need food to live, but we use food to control the way we feel about ourselves.”

However, not all eating disorders have the same symptoms or health effects. This is because there are three types of different eating disorders; Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. All of theses are very different from each other and can be caused by a multitude of reasons.

Anorexia Nervosa is when an individual limits the amount of calories they intake and infrequently eat meals. This form of eating disorder is associated with a fear of gaining weight or having high expectations of their own body image, valuing being thin. There are many health problems that go along with Anorexia Nervosa, such as bone loss, organ failure, brain damage, and infertility.

The next kind of eating disorder is Binge Eating. A patient with a binge eating disorder is very different that an individual with anorexia nervosa. With binge eating disorder an individual eats large quantities of food all at once. Since the symptoms of binge eating involve unnatural overeating the health effects can be obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Bulimia is correlated with binge eating in the way that food is being overeaten, but following the large food intake there is commonly either purging, over excessive exercise, or laxative abuse. This can be very dangerous and lead to gastrointestinal problems, severe dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances.

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a friend of yours is suffering from an eating disorder. Casro stated that “some symptoms of having an Anorexia Nervosa are skipping meals, making excuses for not eating, becoming a vegetarian or shifting what types of food they eat, not eating with the family or general groups of people, and openly not feeling good about their bodies”.

Castro goes on to state that “for binge or bulimic type of eating disorder you might notice someone eats more sweets or high fat foods and going to the bathroom afterwards to purge. A bulimic might use excessive exercise in addition of taking about having body image issues”, stated Castro.

Having a friend with an eating disorder could stem from many factors. The most important thing to do is let them know that you support them. To address the problem properly Castro states  “Don’t just do nothing. If you notice something with a friend who is eating a lot less or eating a lot more. Say that you have noticed a change in the way they eat, that you love them and care about them. State your feeling of concern. The key is to name the problem and address it in a very sensitive and caring way. Their eating disorder is not really about the food, but it is about the reason that they are either using or not using food”.

Once the problem has been addressed there is a multitude of ways that an individual with an eating disorder can reach out for help. They could do this by reaching out to a friend, looking for a counselor, or talking to a doctor. When getting help from a counselor the goal is to create a more positive  relationship with food.

“Teenagers (and adults) will use eating or not eating/food as a way to cope with their stress and intense emotions. Part of treatment is to help teens develop healthy coping skills so they don’t need to use food to manage the difficult emotions. Healthier coping skills can include going for a walk, meditation, listening to music, reaching out to a friend, reading a book, doing a hobby, journaling, writing poetry etc… Coping is a response to stressors. There are healthy and unhealthy coping skills, such as not eating/restricted eating, overeating, using drugs, drinking or cutting. So, part of treatment of eating disorders includes helping teens develop better and healthier ways to cope with their problems”, stated Castro.

Eating disorders can affect many students within Mount Vernon High School. These disorders represent a need for control and a low self worth regarding body image. By changing society’s view of body shape we can together change how body standards should be. Eating disorders can be easily developed, but through encouragement and friendship they can be overcome. If you too are in need for assistance in an eating disorder know that there is help out there. Some counseling offices in Skagit Valley that help with eating disorders are Skagit Behavioral Health INC (360) 424-0400 and Compass Health (360) 419-3500.

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The Development of Eating Disorders