Definition Essay Sample: Anorexia
Anorexia is a psychiatric, life-threatening disorder. It is an eating disorder that falls under the avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). It is defined as self-starvation to maintain unhealthy body weight (Pini et al., 2016). It is understood as self-starvation to remain thin or maintain extraordinarily low body weight. The patients normally weigh less than expected for their age, sex, stage of growth, development, and physical health (Pini et al., 2016). People with anorexia are terrified of gaining weight, and they count every calorie they consume because they have a distorted notion of the ideal body image. This document will discuss the history of the disorder, its causes, and the treatment plans for its management.
The earliest cases of restricted eating in Western countries began from the widespread of Gnostic philosophy and Christianity. Both of them influenced self-starvation because they advocated for a separation between evil, materialism, and righteousness. Christians sought ablution of sins through self-starvation, and some roman women died from the act in an attempt to emulate saints like Saint Jerome (Pini et al., 2016). During the middle age, an association between starvation and spirituality was established, although most incidents of inanition were blamed on demonic possessions. All women who fasted were regarded with suspicion; even St. Caterina and only high-class charming women could persuade the public about the divine nature in their habits. Other scholars defined the fasting habits as ‘holy anorexia’ (Pini et al., 2016). In the Renaissance period, religion became less related with extreme self-starvation, and more medical explanations for the behavior emerged. Morton, an author of “Phthisiologia or a Treatise of Consumptions,” stated that fasting was brought about by a “deficient and unhealthy condition of the spirits” (Pini et al., 2016). This alludes to a psychological etiology that was responsible for such behaviors.
Fasting has evolved during the last three centuries. It progressed from association with religious practices to deep interconnections with body image representation. Since the mid-18th century, the preferred womanly beauty gradually changed from a curvy figure to a willowy and lean body (Pini et al., 2016). Industrialization forced more women, especially the lower classes, to work. Meanwhile, delicate, and dainty beauty became a statement of aristocracy, illustrating talent, success, and a gentle mind (Pini et al., 2016). An example of high-class beauty is the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. She followed stringent diet rules and exercised strenuously, which was exceptional (Pini et al., 2016). Her tall and slender figure embraced modern beauty standards, which continually became ideal until the 20th century.
The preferred body image for women evolves according to the current cultural and social trends. There was a period when the women who were considered beautiful had curvaceous, ample figures. However, the promoted body image has been progressively slender over the last three decades (Pini et al., 2016). The increasingly successful fitness industry has promoted the myth that leanness equals health. From a sociological point of view, Miller and Pumariega assign the changes in eating habits to overexposure and imposition of the western culture that emphasizes thinness as the ideal female body image (Pini et al., 2016). In addition, foreign exchange programs and immigration have been accused of predisposing adolescents and young adults to feeding disorders that blend certain elements of native culture with the compulsion to conform. For instance, vomiting instead of restriction in the Middle East is a more frequent symptom of anorexia nervosa (Pini et al., 2016). This behavior most likely reflects cultural norms or traditions that encourage vomiting more than restriction, and a vulnerable individual may embrace this kind of practice.
The Western world has been bombarding media with pictures of size-zero supermodels and other media impressions of slim role models. This imagery has made weight, shape, and dieting a normal concern among young adults (Pini et al., 2016). An example of such a media platform is TikTok. A documentary done by four corners explains how TikTok uses the algorithm data to identify the user’s personality, weaknesses, preferences, and challenges. The algorithm then sends videos of people going through the same challenges, with the same interests, or with the same tendencies as the user (Dias et al., 2021). This method creates a personalized feel to the app, keeps the user entertained, and becomes addictive. However, if one is going through a mental challenge like anorexia, the narrowed-down suggestions may make it difficult for the user to fight the disease.
An example of such a victim is Laura Hemmings. She joined TikTok with the hope of getting funny videos, and she aimed to view, not to create content (Dias et al., 2021). After she followed a popular fitness influencer on the application, the application flooded her feed with content advocating for unhealthy weight loss. Tiktok pushed Laura into the popular trend of meticulously counting the number of calories consumed in a day, which researchers prove promotes disordered eating. This trend is so popular that the hashtag ‘what I eat in a day has 7 billion views on the platform (Dias et al., 2021). This trend turned into an obsession for Laura, and she could not eat anything until she knew how many calories it contained. According to her, there were a few months that she did not eat anything until she knew how many calories were present. She would not be satisfied until she could meet her target calories for the day. For Laura, it took only four months after joining the platform to acknowledge that she had an eating disorder (Dias et al., 2021). She states that she believes that she developed an eating disorder because she downloaded the application.
According to the documentary, young users continuously turn to Tiktok to find and spread information on restricting food intake and hiding their disordered eating habits from family and friends. They encourage each other through fasts, share recipes, diet plans, and promote this idealistic slender body image. According to Dr. Suku Sukunesan, some users give unhealthy advice that might influence someone vulnerable (Dias et al., 2021). For instance, one would advise the others to lick a pumpkin for lunch but not eat, drink a liter of water, and all will be well.
Claire Benstead claims that she was very reluctant to join the platform because she had heard that the application could identify the eating disorders that a user has. It would curate the user’s feed to be interested in that kind of information. Benstead has been in and out of the hospital with anorexia for more than five years (Dias et al., 2021). She decided to join TikTok to find support and to promote her business venture. The algorithm knew that she had an eating disorder, and she noticed an immediate change in the type of videos on her feed. She was bombarded with eating disorder content, and as she became more obsessive about the content she was being fed, she relapsed instead of getting better (Dias et al., 2021). After being readmitted, her psychologist worked with her to delete all harmful content from her algorithm by reporting such videos, but the eating disorder content reappeared with time.
The application does not take any responsibility for its effect on such vulnerable people. Therefore, they are left to muddle through their disorders, and treatment may take years. Social media is the current main contributor to eating disorders like anorexia. Varieties of eating disorders are promoted in the form of funny videos or trends, but people like Hemmings and Benstead are influenced and develop eating problems. There have been attempts are treatment, but it is never an easy process because of the self-identification that patients have with the disease.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a psychiatric disorder that is challenging to treat. Only 46 percent reach full recovery, while a third show improvement, and for 20 percent, the disorder becomes a chronic illness. Of the patients with the disorder, 5 percent succumbs to it (Voswinkel et al., 2021). There are several reasons why these recovery rates are slow, but one of them is because an ego-syntonic nature characterizes AN. AN is ego-syntonic in that patients view the disorder as part of their identity, not as a disorder that needs management. Unlike most illnesses, anorexic individuals do not express an intrinsic desire to get better, and this perception and relationship with the disease curtail the treatment process (Voswinkel et al., 2021). Sometimes the patients actively refuse treatment since recovering would involve dismissing a part of their identity.
The obsession with dieting, weight loss, and the extreme fear of eating and adding weight overtakes most of the patient’s personality, smothering the original self. As such, the patients have a blurry distinction between self and AN. As for treatment, the healthcare professionals (HCP) guide the patients in distinguishing AN from their true identity (Voswinkel et al., 2021). HCP’s try to clear this distinction by externalizing AN. The purpose of externalizing a mental illness is to assist patients in understanding the illness as an independent entity instead of part of themselves (Voswinkel et al., 2021). Viewing AN as part of self rather than an external disease that can be cured has negative influences in the journey to recovery, and lack of this distinction leads to relapse and, for some, death.
To externalize AN, HCP’s use various methods to sensitize their patients. For instance, they attribute a certain behavior to a healthy side and attribute tendencies evoked by AN to the sick part of the patient or the disease (Voswinkel et al., 2021). Another way is by assisting the patients in reflecting on the difference between habits induced by AN and healthy habits (Voswinkel et al., 2021). Such exercise helps the patients to think about why they made some choices and then decide which part of them, sick or sober, was responsible for the decision.
There are other ideas that anorexic patients have on the link between their identity and AN. Some patients express AN as part of their disposition, while others are an unmistakable, external, and ego-dystonic entity (Voswinkel et al., 2021). Such patients undergo a curiosity defined as the “anorexic voice.” The voice is interpreted as an inner voice, yet at the same time, it is also considered a foreign entity (Voswinkel et al., 2021). For the patients that identify AN as a part of self, defining features of AN as a disease could feel problematic and could be met with resistance. The patient would feel negatively judged when the disorder is described as a disease. However, a patient who externalizes the condition has the feeling of support in chasing a common goal, fighting AN (Voswinkel et al., 2021). For such a person, the externalization of Family-Based Treatment (FBT) is crucial because it can enable the parents to be stern with AN while loving their child (Voswinkel et al., 2021). The patient with an ego-dystonic AN does not fight the treatment, and externalization in FBT can help in reducing the feelings of guilt and blame in parents.
Anorexia is a psychiatric illness. Its development has taken form over the centuries. It started as holy fasting and an attempt to follow the influencers, for example, St. Jerome. Over time it became a method of getting the ideal body image. Self-starvation, restricted dieting, and strenuous exercise became an obsession. The perfect beauty was and is still considered a slender body. Therefore, just like the days of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, modern women have embraced unorthodox methods to maintain as low body weight as possible. Social media platforms are the vice of the modern world. They promote and pressure impressionable individuals into joining the thin is a fitness trend. Examples of people who have conformed to this pressure have been given, and unfortunately, the behavior of feeding harmful content to people with an eating disorder is still prevalent. The platforms do not police these videos, and it takes the patients’ will to delete their presence from the platforms. However, the treatment process has informed that some patients consider AN as part of the self. Therefore, it will be difficult for such a patient to get off such a site. However, the treatment processes of dealing with all kinds of relationships with the disease are in place, and there is the hope of recovery for such anorexic patients.
Dias, A., McGregor, J., Day, L., & Hack, T. (2021). TikTok: Eating disorders, racism, censorship, and distorted realities | Four Corners [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rwu5C8JWO_k&t=1035s&ab_channel=ABCNewsIn-depth.
Pini, S., Abelli, M., Carpita, B., Dell’Osso, L., Castellini, G., Carmassi, C., & Ricca, V. (2016). Historical evolution of the concept of anorexia nervosa and relationships with orthorexia Nervosa, autism, and obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Volume 12, 1651-1660. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s108912.
Voswinkel, M., Rijkers, C., van Delden, J., & van Elburg, A. (2021). Externalizing your eating disorder: a qualitative interview study. Journal of Eating Disorders, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-021-00486-6.