Weight obsession may be a life-threatening condition

Adolescents these days are under a lot of pressure to strive for perfection, and many cannot handle the stress. This inability to handle stress can lead to unhealthy habits that can have long-term effects on a person’s body. Teens will find many coping methods to deal with the pressures of life today, and eating disorders are very common ones.

Eating disorders are life-threatening diseases that must be taken very seriously. Today, eating disorders affect more than half of all teenagers, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Eating disorders include:

  • anorexia nervosa, in which people don’t eat enough because they think they are fat; and
  • bulimia nervosa, which involves periods of overeating followed by purging, sometimes through vomiting or using laxatives.

Teens with eating disorders may not even realize the harmful effects these behaviors will have on their bodies in the long run. For many teens suffering from these diseases, getting help doesn’t seem like a plausible answer when in reality, it is.

Many teens wanting to maintain weight control often employ tactics such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking, vomiting and using laxatives. “I just totally quit eating; if I had to eat, I’d eat low-fat Saltines or fruits,” said a Fairmont junior who suffered two years from anorexia and has asked to remain anonymous.

Eating disorders can develop at a relatively young age. NEDA has said that 42 percent of girls in 1st through 3rd grade want to be thinner, and 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, showing signs that even at a young age, girls are becoming very self-conscious.

Eating disorders are caused by a plethora of reasons, depending on the person. According to Fairmont High School school nurse Kathy Thomas, eating disorders are psychological. “People can have a distorted image of themselves. They won’t like what they see in the mirror,” said Thomas. “Even if they are thin, they’ll perceive themselves as being fat.”

The Fairmont junior who suffered from anorexia developed her eating disorder early in life. “It was in middle school. I was chubby and very unhappy with my body. I also danced, so being chubby wasn’t OK at all,” she said.

The student said her lowest body weight was around 105, and at 5’3” that is far below average. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs around 140 pounds, according to NEDA. “No matter how much weight I lost, it wasn’t enough,” the student said.

The effects eating disorders have on teen-agers’ bodies can vary depending on how severe it is and how much risk they take with the disorder. “My body shut down completely; I was always tired, and I really couldn’t process foods when I did eat,” said the Fairmont junior. “My hair also got really dead and dried out, and my skin got pale. I was eventually hospitalized and put on supplements.”

Unfortunately, most adolescents who are suffering with an eating disorder don’t recognize how deadly the effects can be. For females between the ages of 15 and 24 who suffer from anorexia, the mortality rate associated with this disorder is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death. The Fairmont junior says being hospitalized saved her life. “It helped because I saw how sick I actually was and how serious it all was,” she said.

Thomas says many teens will work to hide their eating disorders. “Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, though,” she said. “Most people will be pretty secretive about it.”

The interviewed student was lucky enough to have a good support system to back her up once the eating disorder became evident. “At first, I hid it for the most part,” she said. “When family and friends did find out, seeing how worried they were helped a lot. They tried to help monitor to my eating.”

The bottom line is that eating disorders are never a feasible solution to try to fix a person’s body. “It was just a short-term fix, not a long-term one” said the student. “I still even struggle with it today.”

Fortunately, though, a person can do many things to get help for an eating disorder. “There is emotional counseling for disorders like this, but first off, the student needs to let an adult or parent know,” said Thomas. “Students are welcome to come see me or another counselor and we can work together on getting them help.”

If there is one piece of advice the Fairmont junior wants to offer anyone suffering from an eating disorder, it is this: “Stop. Get healthy. Think about it. Just think about others, too. It isn’t just you that you’re hurting.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, you can: