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Dying to Be Thin
Seeing an empty box of over-the-counter diet pills in the bathroom at school a couple of weeks ago really got me thinking: what is the ideal body image that we throw at teenagers today? More and more we see people equate success and popularity with beauty and, especially, with being thin. The media, one of the biggest influences on young people, is crammed with images of “the perfect body,” and American life seems to revolve around health clubs, diet pills, and fat-free foods. As contributing factors to eating disorders continue to rise in everyday life, so do the statistics. Fifteen percent of the teenagers diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa will die this year, and as many as 1 in 5 college students are engaging in some form of bulimic behavior. Anorexia is found chiefly in adolescents, especially young women, and female anorexics outnumber males 15 to 1. With numbers this high, someone you know, literally, may be dying to be thin.
In medicine, Anorexia Nervosa is a condition characterized by an intense fear of weight gain or becoming obese, as well as a distorted body image. An anorexic will claim to “feel fat” even when emaciated, and will refuse to maintain a normal, minimal body weight. Visible signs of Anorexia include:
* fear of food and situations where food may be present;
* rigid exercise regimes;
* dressing in layers to hide weight loss;
* use of laxatives, enemas or diuretics to get rid of food.
Treatment techniques for Anorexia include family therapy, group therapy, support or self-help groups, and individual psychotherapy. Given the proper treatment, approximately 50% of diagnosed anorexics will recover completely within 2 to 5 years.
Bulimia, characterized by compulsive binge-eating and purging, is very closely related to Anorexia Nervosa. Victims of these two disorders may share many of the same behaviors and concerns, especially the intense fear of becoming fat. For bulimics, food becomes an obsession and an addiction. Some visible signs include:
* strict dieting followed by eating binges;
* disappearing after a meal;
* excessive concerns about weight;
* expressing guilt or shame about eating.
Bulimia predominantly affects young women, although 5-10% of its victims are male, and is more widespread than Anorexia. Bulimia is treated in much the same way as Anorexia, but has a higher success rate for recovery.
With proper treatment, teenagers can be relieved of the symptoms of Anorexia and Bulimia and can be helped to control these disorders. Help from family members, early detection, and especially an acceptance of people of all shapes and sizes by society will help lower the statistics and lead to fewer teenagers with these terrible conditions.