Every day, the battle against food, weight and eating disorders rages on for millions of Americans. Twenty-four million men and women are affected nationwide by a variety of eating disorders including anorexia.
Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. For many, it starts out as just a diet and a desire to lose weight. The total weight loss is generally around 15 percent below the person’s normal body weight.
People suffering from anorexia look very thin to everyone but himself or herself. The problem is more than just food. Sufferers are often depressed, using food as a tool, they can feel they have more in control of life, dealing with tension, anger and anxiety. People with anorexia can also suffer from depression, anxiety, and obsessive behavior. They may also have problems with physical development, issues with the heart and brain, and substance abuse.
While researchers are still unsure of what causes eating disorders, dieting, when combined with using food as a coping mechanism, can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.
For Joanne Marvin, a poker dealer from California, her anorexia started when she was busted for drug possession. “It was the most horrifying experience of my life to this day,” said Marvin. For many sufferers, anorexia starts as a sense of control. They often feel the only thing in their life they can control over is their weight, and subsequently food intake.
“I had lost my job, had large attorney fees, and became depressed and agoraphobic (a fear of public spaces). I felt I had no control over my life nor the situation at hand.”
Most people with anorexia will deny having a problem. They’ll refuse treatment, but continually express how they need to lose weight. “My mother came to visit me [unaware of my condition] and she was appalled at my appearance, to say the least, she threatened to have me hospitalized,” said Marvin. “I was glad she left because I did not want to hear the truth about how terrible I looked.”
Signs of anorexia include moving food around the plate instead of eating it, not eating or eating very little, and exercising a lot — even in bad weather or when they are hurt or tired.
“[I] began exercising a great deal, drank coffee and eggnog, and perhaps once a week ate peanut butter on ice cream for some sort of nourishment.” Marvin’s anorexia lasted over a year and brought her to her lowest weight of 90 pounds. “Being a short, petite person to begin with, I thought I looked great!” Marvin exclaimed.
“My ribs were showing, my pelvic bones protruded, [my] hair was listless and dull, teeth were loose and I lost my period,” Marvin said. Muscle weakness, kidney and liver damage or disorder, gastro-intestinal problems, tooth decay or dental problems and hair loss or thinning are all results of anorexia.
While females are more likely to develop an eating disorder, an estimated five to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. This number jumps to 35 percent when talking about binge eating. It is estimated between 0.5 percent and 3.7 percent of females develop anorexia.
When it comes to treatment, only one in 10 men and women with eating disorders seek help. Marvin never received treatment for her anorexia. “Little by little, with encouragement from friends, I started looking for jobs.” She eventually landed a job, once again, as a poker dealer, where she met and began dating a regular player. They dated and though Marvin initially pushed her food around during their dinner dates, she did begin to eat and actually enjoy it. “I knew I was punishing myself for getting busted and that the punishment wouldn’t last forever,” she said.
If you think you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to get help. Information is available through The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness at http://www.eatingdisorderinfo.org/