A Brief History of Eating Disorders

Footsteps in the sand.

Some people do not realize how far back eating disorders go. Doctors in England first discovered anorexia in the 1870s. Catherine of Siena only ate herbs, and sometimes she would take a twig and stick it down her throat so that she could vomit. The Ancient Greeks were also bulimics, and they binged and purged more than one time every day (Neill 34).

There is no one cause of eating disorders because many things contribute to them. If you have low self-esteem, that can be a big contribution. Some other causes of these disorders could simply be feeling helpless, using it as a way to handle stress and concerns, or just wanting to have control over something in your life. For other people, the main cause might be just being fearful of becoming over weight. But some people do not have much of a choice when it comes to eating disorders, because genetics play a big part. If an eating disorder runs in your family, then that may also be a main cause. In some families, the mother is extremely concerned about her daughter’s weight, and that concern can lead to the child becoming over concerned as well, which then can lead to an eating disorder. Also in families, sometimes the father or brothers make comments or suggestions having to do with the daughter’s weight, which can then make her want to look as thin as she can so that the rest of her family is satisfied (Hoffman). When talking about being thin and attractive, Barbara, who is a 19-year-old bulimic college, says:

“…Because that’s what my father thinks and likes. I guess I want to live up to his standard.” ‘ Her quote clearly describes how her father likes people who are thin and attractive, and so because Barbara wants to live up to his expectations, she is a bulimic and was anorexic in junior high school (Hesse-Biber 79). About 46% of nine to eleven year olds are sometimes or often on diets, and so are 82% of their families. Those kids’ families may be impacting the kids to also worry about their weight, even at such a young age (“Statistics”). Some people also say that having strict and overprotective parents, family problems, and even fear of sexuality can cause eating disorders (“Eating Disorders”).

The most commonly known cause of eating disorders is the social pressure to be thin (“Eating Disorders”). The average American model is 5’11” and weighs only 117 pounds, while the average American women is 5’4″ and 140 pounds. That statistic shows that most models are thinner than 98% of American women. Maybe that is why 80% of American women are not happy with what they look like. People have been starting to think that models are having a severe negative impact on eating disorders, and there are even more statistics that may prove that assumption. About 42% of first, second, and third grade girls want to be thinner, 81% of ten year olds are afraid of becoming fat, and 51% of nine and ten year old girls feel better if they are on a diet (“Statistics”). A college sophomore named Donna says, ‘ ” I would see these thin girls in the magazines and say I want to be like that. I would look at myself in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw.” ‘ (Hesse-Biber 31). But in contradiction to this, everyone at an eating disorder clinic in Britain say that they do not blame models for their eating disorders because they believe that it is much more personal (Neill 34).

Eating disorders have many symptoms and warning signs. In general, someone with an eating disorder may eat in secret, wear very loose clothes in order to hide their bodies, and try to isolate themselves because of depression (Ciotola).

There are many symptoms of Anorexia, some which intertwine with the complications of Anorexia. A person who has anorexia may feel extremely uncomfortable near food, and so they may have trouble eating in front of other people. Their skin may start to turn a pale color, and their hands and feet will start to become very cold. Their energy level might start to decrease, and so they might start to become dizzy more often and have more frequent headaches. Another symptom of Anorexia is becoming short of breath (Thompson). Someone with anorexia will start to grow lanugo, body hair, all over his or her body. Some of the very obvious symptoms would be a decrease in eating, a decrease in eating high carbohydrates and fats, and over exercising. People with anorexia also have an extreme fear of gaining any weight, they usually compare what they eat to what others eat, and you would notice that they have certain patterns of handling food whether it be pushing it around their plate, or cutting food into small pieces. The actual weight loss percentage needed to be Anorexic is 25% or more of weight loss (“Eating Disorders Warning Signs”).

Bulimia, just like Anorexia, also has many symptoms. Since bulimics try to get rid of their food after they have eaten, someone with Bulimia may take frequent trips to the bathroom to secretly vomit after they eat. A bulimic may also have extreme concerns about their weight, may be depressed, and have a fear that once they start to eat they would not be able to stop. This person could also have secretive binges, which afterwards they would go and vomit to get rid of the food they just ate. A binge is when a person eats an extremely large amount of food in a short period of time (“Eating Disorders Warning Signs”). A person’s weight would start to vary and change very often, usually in the ten to fifteen pound range. They may start to notice that they have broken blood vessels, a sore throat, shortness of breath, stomach pain, chest pains, and bloating. If someone is Bulimic, you may also start to notice that they try to avoid restaurants, planned meals, and social events. The one symptom that fools most people is that Bulimics usually stay at their normal weight (Thompson).

Some people underestimate the results of having an eating disorder. The results are so severe that these disorders could lead to permanent damage, or even death.

Being anorexic can lead to so many problems. If you are anorexic, you can have a loss of menstruation and stop having your period. You may also start to have skin problems, have constipation, and even start to become dehydrated. The lack of nutrients can cause hair loss, and your heartbeat can become irregular. Your metabolism will start to slow down, and you could have a loss of bone mass. Water retention is another complication of having this disorder, as well as osteoporosis and insomnia, which is when you have trouble sleeping. Your kidney and liver may be damaged, and anorexia can cause infertility (Thompson). This disorder can even lead to changing your entire brain structure and decreasing how much muscle you have, as well as causing anemia. But worst of all, having this disorder can lead to malnutrition, cardiac arrest, and most importantly can lead to death (“Consequences”).

Bulimia has just as horrible complications as Anorexia does. It can lead to Pancreatitis, which is the swelling of the pancreas. Your kidney and liver can also be greatly damaged, as well as having your esophagus be torn. Certain glands in your body, like the parotid gland, will enlarge. You may also have electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes are salts in the body that perform electricity and are found in the body, fluid, tissue, and blood. Another complication of Bulimia is cathartic colon, which is caused by using laxatives, which bulimics take in order to help them vomit. They may begin to notice that their fingers have calluses on them, from using their fingers to help them throw up. A Bulimic’s hands and feet may start to swell, which is called Edema, and their blood pressure may start to drop (Thompson). Someone with this disorder will have their face and cheeks start to swell, and they can even acquire gum disease. Just like anorexia, being bulimic can lead to cardiac arrest, and it eventually can lead to death (“Consequences”).

Treatment for an eating disorder is very complex. Usually for treatment you would need an internist, a nutritionist, an individual psychotherapist, a group and family psychotherapist, and a psychopharmacologist, which is a person who knows about medications for treatment. A form of treatment that is helpful for Bulimics is group therapy. At group therapy, there would be other people that have the same problems. Another one of the most helpful and useful forms of treatment is a combination of individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is therapy that teaches a person to change the wrong and negative thoughts and feelings in your head. There are also antidepressant medications that can be used to treat eating disorders (Hoffman). Clinics are another form of treatment that have been very successful in some cases. There is one specific clinic called the Newmarket House in Britain, which has treated 100 patients successfully so far. Only some of their patients have had relapses back into an eating disorder. It costs 250 pounds, which would be about $391 to the United States, to treat a patient with anorexia. At this clinic, they have a staff of 50 people, and there are four staff member assigned to each patient. The patients are looked after for 24 hours. Their eating is strictly watched, and they are put into a sitting room after they eat so that they do not vomit. They have 6 small meals a day, which they refer to as “snacks” so it doesn’t sound as horrible to the patients there. The patients must eat everything on their plate. There are no full mirrors at the clinic, and no scales. This means that they do not know their weight until they leave the clinic (Neill 34).

There is an interesting story of an anorexic girl named Alice Ladbrooke. Her family’s hospital consultant suggested that Alice went on a vacation with her family. She had been anorexic the year before, but had recovered. When she went on that vacation, she weighed only 5 stone, which is about 70 pounds. Every day she would only eat fat free yogurt and fruit, and she would over exercise. On the sixth day of their vacation, she could not even lift her head, and soon enough she went into a coma. Because she ate so little and exercised so much, Alice’s body started to eat its own muscles. Her heart and liver failed, but she ended up surviving. She spent three months in a hospital gaining weight, was let out, and had a relapse. That is when she was brought to the Newmarket House in Britain where she made a lot of improvement. She stopped going up and down the stairs in order to burn calories, she could actually sit down without moving her legs to burn calories, and she started to be able to eat in a restaurant. Instead of eating a plate of food in two to three hours, she started to be able to eat in only a half an hour. But not everyone in her clinic was making as much progress as she was. There was a young girl at the Newmarket House who was having a lot of trouble with eating. The girl was taken out of the clinic before she should have been, and she ended up dying (Neill 34).

Are girls the only people who have to deal with eating disorders? The answer is clearly no. Although many people assume that eating disorders only affect girls, they don’t realize that boys are also dealing with these disorders. After puberty, five to ten million girls and women will have an eating disorder, but so will one million boys and men. Over their lifetime, .5% to 3.7% of females will be anorexic, and males are 1/10 of those percentages. Over their lifetime, 1.1% to 4.2% of females will be bulimic, and once again, males are 1/10 of those percentages (“A look a major eating disorders”).

Jack Toepke is a male who was anorexic. At 5’8″, he only weighed 77 pounds. He was told that if he lost five more pounds, he would die. Even though it is now 25 years since he was so close to death, he still struggles with the eating disorder. He explains that he was anorexic because of the sense of control it gave him. He explained, ‘ “Cookies were kryptonite, cyanide for me. I thought I was going to poison myself.” ‘ Being anorexic stunted his growth. He has only grown to be 5’8″ when he should have been 6’1″. Even though he has had many relapses, he is still alive and is starting to eat well (“Male Anorexics are the forgotten victims of eating disorders”).

© 2001-2007 Anonymous. All Rights Reserved.
This article is used with the full permission of the author.

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