Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus: Today: ANOREXIA AND BULIMIA - A Craving for Love

By Stoppard, Miriam | The Mirror (London, England), September 16, 1999 | Go to article overview

Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus: Today: ANOREXIA AND BULIMIA - A Craving for Love


Stoppard, Miriam, The Mirror (London, England)


ANOREXIA and bulimia are abnormal ways of controlling weight but neither is a slimmer's disease.

Both are expressions of deep inner turmoil, of psychological problems too difficult to cope with any other way.

They are expressions of avoiding painful feelings, of wanting to be in control of your life when it seems that parents and teachers are controlling you at home and at school.

Dieting is easy to be good at - you just starve. But if you're not careful, you may believe it's the only thing you're good at, so thinness becomes an obsession.

You judge yourself only according to how much you've eaten - the less you eat the more successful you judge yourself to be. All your self-worth becomes bound up in not eating. Starving becomes very difficult to give up.

You hate food and crave love. So you may subconsciously try to remain a child, the time WHEN you felt secure in being loved and didn't have to take any grown up responsibilities.

You didn't have to perform and you didn't have to excel. By starving you fight against your developing body - you don't develop breasts and you don't menstruate.

BULIMICS go for several days with very little food and then become crazed with an uncontrollable desire for food so that they eat almost anything in sight which is edible.

This may mean eating extraordinary mixtures of raw and cooked food, sweet and savoury mixed in huge quantities.

Some women have died after such a "binge" because their stomachs have ruptured under the strain. Some women eat normally but then force themselves to vomit immediately afterwards.

This pattern of starving, bingeing and vomiting is very hard to break. It's also much more common than people think, but drugs can help this condition.

Many anorexics suffer serious side effects as well as getting very thin. Their hair starts to fall out, their periods dwindle and even stop, and they may start growing unsightly body hair.

They may go on to develop osteoporosis (brittle bones) in later life. In extreme cases, the girl dies.

CAUSES OF ANOREXIA AND BULIMIA

Control: Dieting can be a very satisfying activity. Most of us know the feeling of achievement when the scales tell us that we've lost a couple of pounds. It's good to feel that we've managed to control ourselves in a clear, visible way.

It can be especially satisfying for girls in their teens who feel that weight is the only part of their lives over which they have control. Not eating becomes an end in itself.

Social pressure: In societies which don't value thinness, eating disorders are very rare. In surroundings such as ballet schools, where people value thinness highly, they're common.

Generally in Western culture "thin is beautiful". Television, newspapers and magazines are full of pictures of slim, attractive young men and women and there's huge pressure to conform.

It's easy to see how this social pressure might cause some young women to develop anorexia.

Family: Some children and teenagers find saying no to food is the only way they can make their feelings felt and have influence in the family. Eating is an important social ritual.

Accepting food gives pleasure to whoever's providing it, refusing it will often cause offence. This is particularly true within families!

Not growing up: A girl with anorexia may lose or not develop some of the physical traits of an adult women, such as pubic hair, breasts and monthly periods. …

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