A person suffering from anorexia sees themselves as fat when they are, in fact, skinny and underweight. Their weight does not match their height, activity level or age. They get bad memory, feel depressed, have a fear of gaining weight, feel light headed, and often faint. Women with anorexia may have problems with their menstrual cycle such as missed or late periods, as well as trouble getting pregnant. Woman who are pregnant have a higher risk of a miscarriage and a higher risk to need to deliver their baby through C-section. People suffering from anorexia can also have muscle and joint problems, kidney stones, kidney failure, anemia, bloating, constipation, low levels of potassium, magnesium, and sodium in their bodies, low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and heart failure. Some physical signs that can be seen on a person suffering from anorexia are dry or yellow skin, brittle nails, more hair growth on their body, and thin and brittle hair. A person with anorexia may also get cold easily, bruise easily, and feel down a lot.
Starving for the Holidays – A Tale of Anorexia Those struggling with anorexia are terrified of the holidays because they have no idea what a normal amount of food is for themselves. Most of them feel that anything they eat will mean instantaneous weight gain. In fact, some of them have said that just the sight or smell of food is terrifying to them because their fear of being fat or becoming fat is so ever-present in their minds. For some, just thinking about food is enough to create intense turmoil, pain, and guilt. Anorexia creates tremendous guilt about any kind of indulgence involving food. The eating of food becomes evidence, in their mind, that they are weak, out of control, and undisciplined. Anorexic men and women are often terrified of being seen eating food or of having people look at them while they eat. One client felt that every eye was on her at holiday gatherings. Many suffering with anorexia have shared their feelings of being immobilized by their fears about food.
“Unlike any other normal teenager, I always hated it when the holiday season would roll around. It meant that I would have to face my two worst enemies – food and people, and a lot of them. I always felt completely out of place and such a wicked child in such a happy environment. I was the only person who didn’t love food, people, and celebrations. Rather, holidays for me were a celebration of fear and isolation. I would lock myself in my room. Maybe no one else gained weight over the holidays, but just the smell of food added weight to my body. My anorexia destroyed any happiness or relationships I could possibly have had.” -Nineteen-year-old woman
“The holiday season is always the most difficult time of year in dealing with my eating disorder. Holidays, in my family, tend to center around food. The combination of dealing with the anxiety of being around family and the focus on food tends to be a huge trigger for me to easily fall into my eating disorder behaviors. I need to rely on outside support to best cope with the stresses of the holidays.” -Twenty-one-year-old woman
There is no need and there is no good time to feel guilty or at fault for your loved one’s eating disorder. The Holidays are especially not the time. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that are not caused by one person or one relationship. It is also important for the eating disordered person not to feel responsible for their family and friend’s emotional response to the eating disorder. One helpful agreement around the holiday season is, “We will spend time focusing on the need for nourishment as previously agreed upon, and primarily, we will spend time focusing on each other and the things that are available and that are meaningful in our family or social setting.” Let them know that you can look beyond the outward manifestations of the eating disorder because you are also concerned about the hurt, pain, fear, and guilt they are feeling inside. In acknowledging the pain inside, no one has to be at fault or to blame for the eating disorder, allowing positive family associations and caring to become the emphasis. There is no need to “walk on egg shells”, especially when everyone understands and acknowledges the underlying needs associated with the eating disorder. Compassion is a wonderful holiday gift for someone with an eating disorder.
Some family dynamics, such as conflict, can be triggering to those with eating disorder difficulties. Struggles with perfectionism, feelings of rejection, disapproval, and fear of being controlled, are all cited frequently by women who suffer with the illness. Harboring strong feelings and beliefs that parents, family members, or friends find them unacceptable, inadequate, or disappointing is challenging for anyone, but is particularly devastating to someone with a painful eating disorder. Being immersed in a family setting during the holidays has the potential to dredge up old issues, fears, conflicts, and worries about family relationships. The resulting emotional disruption can feed the eating disorder and exacerbate the problem.Holidays, with all the food and family commotion, are pure hell when you have an eating disorder. For me, when the focus isn’t on food and is on the real reason for the holiday, it’s a big help. My family helped me out with this one, but I had to do most of it internally. Remember, it’s just food, and we have more power than food.” -Thirty-nine-year-old woman
According to the South Carolina Department of Health, about seven million American women and one million American men have an eating disorder. About one in every two hundred women in America has anorexia, and about two or three out of one hundred women have bulimia. About half of Americans know at least one person who has an eating disorder. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, about 5% to 10% of people diagnosed with anorexia will die within 10 years of having the disease, about 18% to 20% of people will be dead after having the disease for 20 years and only 30% to 40% of people will recover from it. It is very scary fact that the rate of mortality for people with anorexia is twelve times higher than the rate of death of all of the causes of death for females from 15 to 24 years old. (South Carolina Department of Health). Nearly 20% of the people who have anorexia will die prematurely from health problems and heart problems due to their eating disorder. About 95% of people with an eating disorder are between the ages of 12 and 25, about 50% of females between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight, and around 80% of 13 year old’s have, at some point, tried to lose weight. It is a very sad fact that over 80% of females who have made an effort to go get treatment for their eating disorder, have not received the full treatment that they need in order to fully recover. This often leads to the disorder reoccurring and to the patients hurting their health even more. Obviously, eating disorders are really serious and they should be treated as soon as possible.
Since eating disorders are such important problems facing society today, researchers have used psychological theories to try to solve these problems including group therapy, medical treatment, and nutritional counseling. Eating disorders are treatable, and a person who has an eating disorder does have a chance of getting better, however, if the media continues to idolize skinny celebrities and condone their extremely thin size, it will continue to aid people in trying to lose weight. Having an eating disorder is like a really bad habit that needs to be stopped. A lot of people do not have the ability to stop this bad habit on their own, thus they need help from professional doctors and even family. There are several different methods used to treat an eating disorder. Since an eating disorder affects individuals both physically and psychologically, the treatment for an eating disorder has to satisfy both the physical and psychological aspect of the disorder. Medicine alone wont help a patient get better. In order to get positive long term effects from the treatment, a patient has to receive a mix of medical and psychological help for their disorder. Some therapies that psychologists use to determine the problem and treatment of an eating disorder are cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, rational emotive therapy, and psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
It is not your job to fix or solve the eating disorder. It is your job to encourage nourishment of the body and provide nourishment to the soul. Working too hard to stop the eating disorder behaviors during the holidays can fuel dishonesty and defensiveness which actually feeds the problem. You are not responsible to say or do everything right. Nothing you do or not do will take away your friend or family member’s own responsibility to overcome and recover from their eating disorder. She/he is the only one who can do that job, but you can care, empathize, encourage, and share the process with them. The good intent you express is often more helpful than what is actually said or done. If your friend or family member knows that your heart is on their side, then you become a source of comfort, support, and safety to them.These general holiday suggestions by patients and professionals are not a complete list, but they do emphasize some positive approaches to help and support someone suffering with an eating disorder. The specific ideas, strategies, and agreements that can come out of your interactions with your loved one before and during the holidays will allow these ideas to be personalized and unique for each situation. Remember also, that the person struggling with the eating disorder has her own list of positive things that she can do to help her through the holiday season as well. We hope this article is helpful in better understanding the significant and difficult ordeal those who suffer from eating disorders will face at this season of the year. We hope this awareness and understanding will help us identify the best gifts of the holidays for those we love and care so much about at this time of year.
Personally, I don’t think that the media will ever be an effective resource for people to learn the truth and to learn about eating disorders. The media spreads a lot of false information and people tend to misinterpret the messages they hear on TV. Companies try to sell us products that will reduce our weight and make ourselves look “beautiful” by spending millions of dollars on advertisements. Consumers spend a lot of money and time trying to lose weight and buying these products that are not what the body needs. I believe that our bodies know what they need and ever one’s body is different. Everyone has a different metabolism and shape, and we have to learn how to love ourselves for who we are. We need to teach children at a young age that what they say on TV is not what it is cracked up to be and that they need to have self confidence, because if they don’t create an image for themselves, the media will do it for them.