According to a poll taken by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Toronto, “Children would rather lose an arm, be hit by a truck or have a parent die of cancer, than be fat” (“Research Suggests That Eating Disorders).This statistic shows that eating disorders may be more common than we think. It is a common myth that having an eating disorder is a choice or that it is just a version of extreme dieting. But, it is a serious mental health condition and it has the highest mortality rate out of all mental illnesses (Bulk). The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Victims suffering from anorexia starve themselves for long periods of time and, when they do eat, eat only dramatically rationed portions. victims suffering from bulimia will eat large amounts of food in one sitting, or a binge, and then force themselves to throw it up immediately afterwards. Eating disorders are vicious and, when not treated, can lead to kidney failure, osteoporosis, heart diseases, gastric rupture, and many other horrible conditions (NEDA).
A new study conducted by the students at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, gives insight as to how the brain’s of victims suffering from eating disorders vary from the brains of healthy people (Campbell). “[This] study provides further evidence that [anorexia] is a neurobiology-based, or brain based, disorder,” says Christina Wierenga, an Associate Professor at the UCSD School of Medicine. The study basically explains that there is a part of your brain that is activated when you feel hunger, and it motivates you to want to eat food. That is why you get that sense of satisfaction and being rewarded when you eat when you are hungry. But in the minds of those suffering from anorexia, that part of the brain is not as active, so they can’t exactly know when they are hungry. Therefore, food does not seem as appealing as it should be and they have no motivation to eat as they should.
Another study suggests that children can be more prone to anorexia due to how their brains develop before they’re born. According to pediatric psychologist Ian Frampton, “[The] research shows that certain kids’ brains develop in such a way that makes them more vulnerable to the more commonly-known risk factors for eating disorders.” Frampton and his colleagues found that 70% of their patients have had damage to their neurotransmitters, these help brain cells communicate with each other, and have subtle changes in their brain structure. If scientists are able to screen for potential eating disorder patients before their even before, this can give parents a head start and make sure that they are raising their child in a healthy and encouraging home.
Contrary to common belief, having an eating disorder is not a choice. “I think this is perhaps the most damaging one that our patients have had to deal with,” says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D “We still see this when patients go to the [ER] and they get triaged really far down the priority list because the physician thinks that somehow they chose to have a ruptured esophagus or they chose to have electrolyte imbalance.” There are many women who are well into their forties and still have a severe eating disorder because their parents refused to give them treatment simply due to the fact that they believed an eating disorder was all in someone’s head. There are also many people who didn’t receive treatment because they, or those around them, did not recognize the warning signs that this was an eating disorder. “[Aproximately] one in three people (35%) admit that they wouldn’t be able to recognize the warning signs [for an eating disorder]” (NEDIC). But society has become more educated about eating disorders than ever, especially now that they have become more prominent and their mortality rate has risen. The Education Coordinator at Nedic, Marbella Carlos, says, “ Early identification of symptoms is important for getting support, diagnosis and treatment.” She believes that by educating others about the warning signs of having an eating disorder and by creating awareness of how deadly eating disorders, “[can] help prevent many eating disorders before they develop” (Carlos).
There have been many studies conducted, and there are many more to come, that have proved that eating disorders are a neurological disease. The fact that people have been denied treatment for this life threatening disorder just goes to show how ignorant society can be. Just because someone isn’t stick thin or you’ve seen them eat, doesn’t mean that they don’t have an eating disorder. In a way eating disorders are like cancer. At first you don’t really notice the symptoms and the person seems to be perfectly healthy, but after a few months the long term effects of their disease start to take a toll on their body. The only difference is that no one would willingly deny a cancer patient treatment. Eating disorders need to stop being treated like a fashion trend and need to start being treated like the deadly diseases that they are.
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