Eating disorders are the third most common serious medical disorder in female adolescents, after asthma and depression (Ung, 2003). Abnormalities in eating behaviour can result from eating too much (binge eating/obesity), having unusual eating rituals (bulimia nervosa), or not eating at all (anorexia nervosa). A variation of eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, was made popular by Hollywood, which glorified anorexic celebrities like Tara Reid, Nicole Richie and Mary-Kate Olsen, to name a few.
Anorexia Nervosa is defined as the refusal to maintain a body weight at or above a minimal normal body weight for one’s age and height (APA, 2004). This thinking of losing weight is usually manifested as the anorexic’s refusal to eat food up to the point that their body weight drops down to at least 15% less than the average weight (some of them can weigh as low as 60 pounds).
‘Skin and bones’ is how anorexics would look like to other people. Physically they are morbidly underweight that they would look like bones or chopsticks walking around. This perception would not be so for the sufferers of anorexia. Their struggle for bodily perfection is so distorted that even at their malnourished condition, they can still find something that would make them look ‘fat’ and this of course would drive them to further avoid eating.
It is to be understood that anorexia nervosa, although classified as an eating disorder, is actually the adolescent’s efforts to obtain bodily perfection in order to receive approval and love from others. Anorexics have reduced the idea of being beautiful into one simple formula: slim = beautiful. This false association is simply gathered from societal and media exposure.
Anorexia Nervosa has penetrated the land of Singapore throughout the recent years. A report by See (2007) indicated that anorexia in Singapore has doubled from 2003. Consistent with western findings, majority of them are adolescents and over 91% of sufferers are females and 84% are of Chinese ethnicity (Lee, Lee, Pathy, and Chan, 2005).
Clinicians would point the finger at globalization or westernization in infusing in the young minds that slimmer is always more beautiful and being fat is perceived as being lazy and unattractive. Today, adolescents drive themselves to be slim and attractive in various ways: by going to the gym, by increasing the distance they walk, by going through different kinds of diets, by taking in substances such as diet pills, fat burners, diuretics and laxatives, and finally by out rightly refusing the intake of food. They do this not for physical or health reasons but for deep seated socio-emotional motivations. Doing their best to be slim takes away guilt feelings that makes them feel that they are weak and selfish people who are incapable of sacrificing; it also takes away the thoughts that they are useless or lazy. So, the anorexic’s refusal of food is actually an attempt to restore their lost self-esteem and self-worth. What they don’t know is that they’re going into a neurotic cycle; a trap that would lead to nowhere but increased anxiety and endangered health.
Anorexia Nervosa is a dangerous psychological disorder that poses a direct threat to one’s physical health; it can even be a fatal. People who suspect their children or friends of possessing an eating disorder should help them consult a physician and go for a medical check-up. The first priority is always physical health and recovery. Nutritionists are also helpful in suggesting what food supplements to take for a balance diet. For the long term, it is healthy for anorexics to learn that starving oneself is not connected to any physical or spiritual benefits; while eating healthily will not make people like you less. Self-starvation is a completely irrational behavior that is fueled by lies of society that the sufferer, unfortunately, has believed in.
Eating won’t make you ugly. The figures of people we see in television and magazines are a product of professional training and controlled dieting, not by self-starvation. The figures we see from the media are not natural figures and people with normal lifestyles will not achieve such figures. I am not promoting obesity, which is also another eating disorder, but we shouldn’t deprive people of the truth that eating healthy is good and looking slim is not always beautiful. Just ask any healthy and happy person who cares about you.
Eat well and eat right so you can enjoy life and live it happily.
American Psychological Association (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Edition (DSM-IV-TR).
Lee H., Lee E., Pathy, P., & Y. Chan (2005) Anorexia in Singapore: an eight year prospective study. Singapore Medical Journal 46(6): 275
See, J. (2007) The skinny on anorexia… as brought to you by four teenage boys. Retrieved from the website www.youth.sg on January 2010.
Ung, E. (2003) Eating disorders in Singapore: a review. Ann Acad Med Singapore 32:19-24