When she was 14 years old, Abby began her struggle with mental illness. At that age, she was already heavily focused on the scale with a growing disturbed relationship to food. In an article published on the website for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Abby admitted, “I measured my life by the changing number on the scale.”
Abby attended therapy as a way to cope with the disorder. However, at that time she had other factors in her life that prevented from fully receiving the benefits of therapy. Her parents did not fully understand the disorder and were denial about it. Her father needed her support, and there were other concerns at home that made her feel she needed to handle her teen anorexia on her own.
However, as Susie Roman, of the National Eating Disorders Association, pointed out, teen eating disorders are a serious mental illness and not way of life or a lifestyle. Yet, despite the severity of this mental illness, you won’t hear about it too much in the media. It’s still not a topic that well discussed. Although the discussion has improved immensely in the last 20 years, there is a long way to go in terms of giving these disorders the attention they deserve.
Specifically, those with anorexia often begin with an intense desire to lose weight. Which transforms into a morbid fear of gaining weight, to the point of endangering their life. Being thin is a way of exerting power and control, which becomes the most crucial and necessary task for survival, despite the fact that they are harming their body and losing their life as a result.
There are two types of teen anorexia nervosa. The first is the Restricting Type, which is the absence of any binge-eating or purging behavior. The second is the Binge Eating/Purging Type, which is the regular occurrence of this behavior. While in high school, Abby’s anorexia turned into bulimia. In the initial stages of bulimia, the compensatory behavior of binging is a way to ease the guilt from having eaten so much food. However, later it becomes a method of mood regulation. Like Anorexia Nervosa, there are two types of Bulimia Nervosa. The first is the Purging Type, which is the regular occurrence of purging as a way to compensate for the binge eating. The second is the absence of purging but uses other forms of compensatory behavior.
Despite the apparent worsening of the disorder, Abby continued to feel as though she needed to manage the illness on her own, occasionally seeing a therapist during high school. However, it wasn’t until she started college and her eating disorder worsened. She also developed Bipolar Disorder and that’s when she finally decided to take a leave of absence from school and attend a residential treatment center to address her illness. Abby was provided with individual and group therapy, medication, and meals.
Sadly, the rate of occurrence of eating disorders is only increasing. This is partly because the conversations about these mental illnesses are happening more frequently, and partly because of the underlying issues in Western culture. In 2005, a television series called “Starved” discounted and mocked the struggles of having an eating disorder. In one scene, which was supposed to be funny, a character poured detergent over a piece of cake to avoid eating it, but later scoured it out of the trash for some binge eating.
It wasn’t long before social service groups such as National Eating Disorder Association and the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders protested against this so-called comedy and soon the show was canceled.
As a society, we have a long way to go. Eating disorders are dangerous.. Anorexia Nervosa has the one of the highest fatality rates among mental illnesses. Fortunately, Abby is still in recovery and focusing on college and not on the scale.
Al Qassar, D. (February, 2014). Living Life on a Scale. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved on March 20, 2014 from https://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Top_Story&template=/contentmanagement/contentdisplay.cfm&ContentID=165991&title=Living%20Life%20On%20a%20Scale