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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Eating Disorders: The Enemy Within

Written by  Sara Eisen

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Imagine your parents gave you a car for your 16th birthday. It's not new or anything, but it doesn't have too many miles on it. It's an OK color, not your favorite, but OK. It's got two or three nicks or scratches, but it's pretty cool, and it moves like crazy.

Whatever you do, do not tell yourself that you are “on a diet” or “living healthy” if you have just radically dropped loads of weight in a short time, or if you exercise more than you know you should.

Now imagine that you looked at that car, the one that takes you to school every morning, the one that takes you to the mall every weekend, the one that feels so good on the highway, with the windows rolled down, imagine that you looked at that car, and saw every bump and every scratch and the wrong color and the wrong upholstery and you hated it.

You hated that it was not a Porsche, not a BMW, not a Ferrari. You hated it so much, that you decided to punish it. Decided to let it know who was boss. You hated it so much that it was making you hate everything else, too. It was all you could think about. So you stop changing the oil. You stop filling it up. You just let it run down, that stupid, hateful, undeserving, ugly, hunk of tin.

This seems ridiculous, right? But every day, millions of young people across America are starving their bodies, letting them break down, because they are not pretty enough, not thin enough, not Jennifer Aniston, not Heather Locklear, not Calista Flockhart. Not "perfect". They hate themselves, hate their bodies, hate their lives. How much sense does this make? Not much. But to a sufferer of an eating disorder, it is very, very real.

There are no easy answers as to why someone decides to let their body starve, or eats the entire refrigerator and then makes themselves throw up, or abuses laxatives. No easy answers why some people exercise for three or four hours a day to burn off two cookies, or why some people just can't stop eating because they hate themselves so much, they think they deserve to be fat and unhealthy.

Many people attribute eating disorders to society: Hollywood and the media demand an impossible standard of thinness, and young people feel that in order to be attractive, they need to look like Jennifer Love Hewitt. They feel that their entire self-worth is tied up in their appearance, in looking tiny. And that if they can't, they are worthless. This may be part of it.

But there are other issues, too. Many people use eating disorders as a way to control something in their lives. They figure that a battle with food is one they can win.

Others want to be the "most" something - so they decide to be the "most" thin. It is an obsession, like any other, only more dangerous.

Some people have a need, for whatever reason, to be perfect - and equate this with being perfectly thin.

Others are seeking to be "invisible" - literally; They strive to be lighter than air.

Some people use starving as a form of rebelion against their parents. Food is just another power struggle with Mom or Dad.

Others are trying to draw all the attention to themselves in an attempt to get their parents to stop fighting, to try to keep them together.

Many people hate themselves so much, they are punishing themselves. They feel that they do not deserve the pleasure derived from eating.

And others are practicing a form of passive suicide. Many of them succeed.

The debate among experts on the causes and ways of curing eating disorders - anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive eating are the main ones - has been going on for a long time. The theories change regularly, against a backdrop of people clamoring for more attention to be paid to this crucial area of illness. They are right; Eating disorders and their casualties will not go away by themselves. More often, they take on a life of their own, becoming an actual "voice" in a person's head. The voice is comfy there; It will stay unless it is vigorously kicked the hell out.

I suggest you read up on the subject, if it interests you, or if you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder. See our Crisis Center for links to some sites which may be helpful, and to some books which deal with this topic.

But whatever you do, do not tell yourself that you are "on a diet" or "living healthy" if you have just radically dropped loads of weight in a short time, or if you exercise more than you know you should. Do not tell yourself that you "are just having a midnight snack" if you regularly consume a whole pint of ice cream when everyone is sleeping.

You are fooling yourself. Or worse, you know exactly what you are doing, but you are lying to everyone else. That voice inside your head is not only making you nuts, it's also making you dishonest.

So get help. Tell someone - a parent, trusted adult, guidance counselor, older sibling. You can not beat this alone, but you must beat it. Before it beats you.

Last modified on Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:25
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Sara Eisen

Sara Eisen

Sara is a journalist and editor.

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