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April 6, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Biting Back

“Though no one can go back and make a new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new end.” 81 per cent of ten-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. 46 per cent of nine- to 11-year-old girls are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets. Girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear wars, cancer, or losing their parents. It’s the growing ‘trend’ in young girls and women that has often gone unnoticed. These fads such as the ‘thigh gap’ and the collarbones that we are constantly reminded of through forums such as Instagram and Tumblr. A fashion movement where death is success. Where looking severely malnourished has suddenly become desirable. This is what we know as ‘Anorexia’.

The problems
No one would really understand. “Why don’t you just eat more?” they would ask. But what non-sufferers cannot comprehend is that this demon is not easy to conquer. It is accompanied by associates such as depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders, to name a few. It’s a mental-health issue that consumes your whole life until you are living and breathing anorexia. As noted by Harvey Simon, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, the primary symptom is major weight loss from excessive and continuous dieting. Your success is waking up in the morning to find your hip-bone is more defined, your 18 km of running has become 20 km. Your hair is falling out, which is confirmed by Simon who describes this as the symptom of ‘thin scalp hair’. You feel so elated inside when people say how thin you are, how worried they are about you, because surely that means you are the skinniest person they have seen in a long time. And that is success. You want to make a statement and to be remembered for how good you look, how prominent your collarbones are, how gaunt your face is. And the fucked-up thing? You are loving every moment, every traumatising moment. And you don’t realise that you could be moments away from death.

There is a constant voice in your head that is always telling you off; don’t eat that, that will make you fat, why are you alive, you’re not good enough, people would be better off without you, can you just leave, get this food out of me, you are poisoning yourself, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? This voice quickly spirals into a friend you console yourself with, a friend that has a label of depression. “Once dieting starts, the genes get switched on and the whole cascade gets going. It can very quickly escalate and spiral out of control,” says Dr Roger Mysliwiec, Director at Auckland Regional Eating Disorder Services.

The causes
What causes this strange, overpowering disease to manifest in one’s mind? Dysfunctional families are often seen as a root of anorexia. However, research suggests that the cause is more genetic and is not because of upbringing. My family is pretty normal though, and yes, although my parents are divorced, I come from a family full of love, support and good values. Mysliwiec says that there is minimal evidence that the type of family environment one grows up in has a massive influence on the disease. There is plenty of proof that there is a causal link, but it is through genetic predisposition as opposed to societal and environmental factors. These genes include food intake, anxiousness, and susceptible personality traits and wired pathways in the brain. The traits are similar to other mental diseases, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These genetic predispositions combined with other common factors are the basic cause of this disease.

Anorexia is a mental-health disease that coincides with a multitude of health issues.  The mental element behind this ‘fad’ is far and beyond worse than any physical detriment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the diagnosis is made when a physician recognises the signs, symptoms and patterns of thinking and behaviour that characterise this illness. It’s your mind that is the hardest to defeat. This is linked with personality, which adds to the causes of anorexia. The ‘type’ of person tends to be perfectionist, obsessive, anxious and highly competitive. “An environment that emphasises high achievement and striving for excellence can bring out a lot of perfectionist tendencies and fear of failure in these predisposed individuals, whose anxiety system gets triggered when they feel they have made a mistake.” This was me to a tee. Once genes, puberty and this kind of personality are combined, the dieting and the insta-fit, insta-skinny, insta-gram messages are thrown in; it is a recipe for disaster.

Self-harm
According to The New York Times ‘In-Depth Report’, there are associations with eating-disorder sufferers being at high risk for depression and suicidal behaviour or attempts. The anorexia coincides well with this, because both the ano and depression have a mutual self-hate towards you. They think you are not good enough, convince you that this world is not for you. The amount of times that I did not want to be here… the near possibility that it could have happened… There was one doctor’s appointment at the Eating Disorders Clinic which was a close call. It had been a bad week, and my escape was to hurt myself to feel that I was still alive, still breathing, and this was a release that I needed so badly. I had tried so hard to conceal these scars from the beady eyes of the doctors… or else it meant readmission to that prison that is known as hospital. I had literally tried to peel the nonexistent fat off my tiny upper legs. She didn’t notice those though, and the arms were covered with the excuse of “scratches from sport”. But that’s the thing. Anorexia makes you a manipulative liar, who has no reason, no sensibility and no cares apart from your world of food and exercise. It makes you into a person you swore you would never become.

The light at the end of the tunnel
There is a silver lining. This event has made me discover who I am, how lucky I am to have an amazing family, and how much one should treasure the small things in life. There are solutions to this disease, and fortunately, most of the complications experienced by people with anorexia are reversible.

Families and friends can be the building blocks to recovery in encouraging loved ones to seek treatment for this complicated mental illness. Most people with anorexia can expect to see a decrease in symptoms as we go on to live meaningful lives.  It is better to love yourself and live a full life. I am not saying it will be easy, I am telling you it is worth it.

If you or a loved one are experiencing this disease, the first action I would take is to ask for help. I started with a GP: weekly visits, daily weighings and, most importantly, structure. Student Health can offer free GP and nurse appointments if you are enrolled with them. If you need help immediately, and are unable to get into institutions such as Eating Disorders Service, their website www.ed.org.nz  provides helplines and contact details for somewhere in your region. The helpline for EDANZ is simple – 0800 2 EDANZ – and all contact is treated with the utmost confidentiality. Their help and support provided me with the mental tools I needed to help rid me of the illness. Stay positive. Stay strong. Bite back.

 

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