Millions of American women struggle with eating disorders. An eating disorder is a disturbance in eating behavior. Most people associate eating disorders with anorexia, 'active self-starvation or sustained loss of appetite that has psychological origins' (Coon 133), or bulimia, 'excessive eating (gorging) usually followed by self-induced vomiting and/ or taking laxatives (Coon 411). They need to purge their bodies of calories in any way possible, so they may also use diuretics or even exercise compulsively. Their body images are severely distorted.

They " re the most talked about and the best studied eating disorders, and researchers estimate that nearly seven million women in the United States suffer from either anorexia or bulimia. But there's a newly recognized condition known as binge-eating disorder that is now considered the most common eating disorder. In the U. S. population, it has a frequency of about one to four out of every one hundred people. Although eating disorders afflict women much more often than they do men, it is estimated that about one million American men suffer from either anorexia or bulimia, and millions more have binge-eating disorder.

Eating disorders are much more prevalent in industrialized countries. According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders are most common in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. Americans today live in a fat-phobic society where, from a very early age, girls are raised to think that thin is better. The famous writer and theater critic Dorothy Parker once said, 'no woman can be too rich or too thin,' words that quickly became a catchphrase still used today. Many of us grow up learning to associate fat with ugliness and failure. Advertisements bombard us with thinner-than-normal models.

Most Miss America contestants and fashion supermodels are more than fifteen percent below the expected weight for their height and age, a criterion for anorexia according to the American Psychiatric Association (Breen). It is not surprising to hear reports of healthy, children of normal weight who are concerned about their diet and afraid of becoming too fat, and of an increasing number of girls who haven't yet reached puberty who are showing signs of anorexia. In one study, forty-five percent of third through sixth graders said that they wanted to be thinner, forty percent of them had actually tried to lose weight, and seven percent of them scored within the high-risk range of an 'eating attitude' test that detects or predicts eating disorder behavior. Eating disorders usually begin before the age of twenty. In a ten year study conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, ten Percent of all the participants reported that their anorexia or bulimia started before they were ten years old; thirty-three percent reported the onset between the ages of eleven and fifteen, and forty-three percent reported an onset between the ages of sixteen and twenty (Dufresne). Anorexia and bulimia have serious physical and psychological repercussions, which, if left untreated, can be fatal.

Eating disorders can devastate the body. Physical problems associated with eating disorders include hair and bone loss, palpitations, anemia, Tooth decay, esophagitis and the cessation of menstruation. They can also affect the gastrointestinal, renal (kidneys), neurological (nervous system), and skeletal systems of the body. People with binge eating disorder may develop high blood pressure, diabetes and other problems associated with obesity. Eating disorders are also associated with other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. About twenty-five percent of people with eating disorders will go into trances when in the acute stage.

A trance indicates that the victim is in the most extreme psychological state of the illness. 'A person in a trance stares straight ahead, not even blinking or moving her eyelashes; she is open-eyed but unseeing. The bridge of the nose often becomes pinched and slightly protruded, perhaps indicating overwhelming concentration. The teeth may become clenched, and breathing turns short and rapid' (Claude-Pierre 101).

Eating disorders are extremely psychological. Because people suffering from these disorders have such a negative power taking over their mind, they begin to have a 'duel personality' in their own head. This second side to their mind tells them that they are not worthy of anything that is good or enjoyable. They need to be punished because everything that does not go the right way is their fault.

They need to be 'perfect'. Because of this negative mindset, they are 'forced' to do unthinkable things to themselves that go beyond, but also includes, self-mutilation. 'In private, I have witnessed and parents have often times reported to me exceedingly disturbing behavior: patients smearing themselves with excrement, eating garbage out of garbage cans, eating their own vomit. One patient consumed pounds of raw sausage.

Another, a bulimic, wrote to me that she eats and then vomits two hundred pounds of food a day' (Claude-Pierre 100). These acts are of people that have no control, but they believe that they are in complete control. These people have and obsession and will not get better on their own; only worse if they are not treated. Treatment is difficult when you are dealing with great 'manipulators'; I am not speaking of the person but of the negative mind. There is a constant fight inside of them. Some victims seem to communicate quite well, but in reality, they have become wonderful actors.

Because most are able to put on this 'show' or 'mask', it is often nearly impossible for families and friends to see that they need help. It is essential to realize that physical appearance is not a valid indicator of the severity of an eating disorder. Some anorexics may pass for low 'normal' weight and therefore not be so easily recognized a shaving a problem. Nevertheless, they may be as seriously ill as those who weigh forty-seven pounds. Eating disorders develop unconsciously; they are, after all, psychological disorders. Anorexics frequently suffer from gross distortion of their body image.

They will often claim they are overweight in the face of all physical evidence to the contrary. Their intense fear of becoming fat is usually not alleviated by weight loss. In fact, concern about weight gain often increases even as actual weight continues to decrease. When trying to treat victims of eating disorders, you need to keep in mind that the victim is embarrassed at being a burden, so she will insist that she is all right.

If you know that she is seriously ill and she appears adamant about wanting no care, you can be assured that the negative mind is in control and you must be strong for her. Her life may depend on it. They feel as though they are not worthy of being taken care of, so you need to assure them that they are and that they are loved very much. By simply forcing someone to eat, or to possibly put them on a medication such as Prozac will not make the illness go away.

It will merely cover the situation up. There are too many underlying problems to assume that after doing these things they will be cured. Long-term, twenty-four hour treatment is usually the way to go for severe cases. All worries need to be taken away from the patients by the caregivers. You need to assure them that not everything is their responsibility and somebody else will take care of it for them. Their mindset needs to be changed, so by taking these burdens off of their shoulders, they will have less to worry about and more time to concentrate on getting well.

This whole process is very difficult and very time consuming but well worth it in the end. These victims are probably the most caring and selfless of anyone, and they need to realize this point. So in helping them do so, you need to show them how many people are there for them and how many people care them and want them to get better. Basically, the good feelings are going to try to overpower the negative mind, making it mute.

In conclusion, eating disorders are treatable through proper care and therapy. It is not something to take lightly and needs to be treated as soon as possible. Though these disorders can be treated they will never be completely cured; they are more "under control" than anything. So just because a person may start to eat more does not mean that everything is over and should be forgotten. Right from the very beginning when it is first noticed that there is a problem, professional help should be sought out.