Eating disorders: warning signs and symptoms
Carla is 14 years old. She’s in class looking out the window. She has stopped paying attention to what the teacher says for a while now. She feels slightly dizzy and her belly growls.She had a coffee with milk and told her mother that she would eat in the school’s dining.
But the truth is she packs her own menu: an apple. She eats it slowly, reluctantly, in the yard away from the dishes and tuppers of her companions. Sometimes, they make a comment but most go unnoticed. The reality is that she is not the only one of her companions with “little appetite” and knows that more than one envy her mood.When leaving class she walks slowly to the bus stop. The sun hits hard even though it’s late. She drinks some water. When she sits down on the bus, takes out Abzurdah of the backpack, a novel she borrowed from a friend. In it, a twelve years old girl falls in love with a much older guy, he doesn’t love her back. The protagonist enters a self-destructive loop. But Carla is a girl too and she does not see it. She can only feel identify with that protagonist who suffers and says “I was always a zero, very round and fat”.
While reading, she opens the backpack, it’s like a reflex, she does not even realize it. Her faithful ally is a plastic straw that she chews frantically. It was the substitute for the gum that she read somewhere that arouses hunger.
When she gets home, leaves the book. Turns on the computer to watch a new episode of Gossip Girl. On the screen, Blair leaves the gourmet restaurant table and kneels in her designer dress. She is locked up throwing up in the bathroom. Blair. And Carla too. The plastic straw is also useful for that. Because she was very hungry and opened the refrigerator and ate it all. She could not control it.
And she gets angry and cries. Because she knows that vomiting does not work, because she vomits and vomits but does not lose weight. The solution is not eating but she lacks will. She holds the pendant that hangs around her neck and makes a prayer. It is a heart, the charm can be opened and the stones inside are exchangeable. On the front side it looks red with colorful flowers, the back side is hidden. It’s says Ana and Mia in black marker. She asks them for help, to accompany her, to not let her succumb.
She found out about Ana and Mia thanks to the book. Sometimes she wonders if her friend has lent it to her on purpose. If her friend saw her as fat or what it would mean to lend such a book. It was a success in sales. But nobody talked about Ana and Mia in person, neither in class nor at recess. Carla went online and read the comments of other girls on the blogs, her messages of support and her confessions of relapses. Ana for anorexia, Mia for bulimia. The argentinians tend to make saints out of anyone. The believers prayed to them, others, like Carla, had them as guides. As something beyond, a presence. Maybe they found it easier to believe being in that limbo, on the verge of constant fainting, where everything moves slower and things lose color.
The reality in figures
70 million people in the world suffer Eating Disorders, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. In some countries the numbers are really scandalous. For example, in Argentina three out of ten young people suffer from bulimia or anorexia, data from the Association for the Fight against Bulimia and Anorexia.
More than 90% of those affected are women and usually develop it during their adolescence. But globally we see how cases are increasing among the male population. It also turns out that the age of onset is getting earlier in both genders appearing even at school age.
What is an eating disorder?
An insane relationship with food and body weight severely impacts daily life: that is an eating disorder. Anorexia and bulimia are the most recognized or widespread but there are different pathologies related to food.
A mental illness
Sometimes it’s hard to understand that, much more than a disorder that physically affects the patient; it is a severe illness on a mental scale. Therefore, it requires an appropriate treatment carried out with a therapist who are the specialists in treating mental disorders.
After accepting that we are dealing with a mental illness, it is time to become aware of its seriousness. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all mental illnesses.
The person has a distorted image of their body, they see themselves with more weight than they actually have. They do extreme diets and arduous exercise routines.
It is an insane relationship with food in which the person alters cycles of binge eating with subsequent panic for the calories they consumed. Then there are two answers: some induce vomiting or consume laxatives or diuretics. Others do fasting and extreme exercise.
The problem in many cases is it’s difficult detection. Unlike what can be popularly believed, not all people with eating disorders have obvious symptoms or severe physical alterations. Although sometimes these signs exist and are a clear indicator.
For occasions when the change produced by the disease is not as visible, or the disease is at an early stage, a good indicator is to be alert to changes in habits or attitudes.
It is worth noting that as far as eating disorders, as it happens with several mental illnesses, you do not necessarily have to look sick, to be sick.
The reasons that unleash these diseases are diverse and change according to the personal experience of each patient. In general terms it usually affects people with low self-esteem or substance abuse. It is also common for them to suffer from other diseases such as anxiety or depression.
There are biological factors at the hormonal and genetic level that makes certain individuals more prone than others. When there is a history of eating disorders in the family there is a ten times higher probability that a child develops it too.
Stress is a big trigger for example before a sudden vital change where the result is unpredictable. It was also discovered that it is very common among abuse victims.
But one of the causes that most stands out is the weight that the mediatic world has in this phenomenon. The media have portrayed unattainable canons of beauty for years. Where the thinness is deified and on it the value of a person is based. Some years ago, People magazine did a survey among it’s North American readers and 80% recognized that the women of the television and the movies made them feel insecure with their bodies. And that was the era of television. Imagine the impact that can have on the self-esteem today that we live bombed and connected all day to social networks. Where somewhere in the world is always summer and there is a girl uploading a bikini photo to Instagram. This has only worsened. Therefore now, more than ever, it is necessary to be alert and aware. It is estimated that 20% of anorexic patients will die prematurely due to not receiving the appropriate treatment. It’s not about superficiality, it’s about life or death. Literally.
The support and role of the family is crucial because patients are often reluctant to access the help they need, because of what getting better entails: gaining weight. In addition, as we mentioned, they are usually minors. Young people who have not yet entered adult life and need support and guidance.
Do not overlook the signs, there is a cure but for it a treatment is necessary and the sooner therapy begins, the shorter and more fruitful the recovery will be.