Eating disorders, foremost among them Anorexia Nervosa, afflict upwards of 8 out of every 100,000 people each year; 40% of this statistic is composed of adolescent females between the ages of 15 and 19.
An eating disorder is defined as "a complex compulsion to eat in a way which disturbs physical, mental and psychological health". This compulsion can have a multitude of different effects depending upon the particular person who feels it. The victim may be compelled to eat more than is healthy, or far less; the victim may eat vast quantities of food and then, through forced vomiting or overuse of laxatives, cause the food to evacuate the body without being digested. This is partly what makes eating disorders so hard to diagnose and treat – there is no specific set of symptoms and, due to this, the practitioner in question may need a large amount of time to formulate a proper mode of treatment.
Eating disorders are also the topic of a latter-day societal taboo in modern life – due to images of modern body image perpetrated by the media, there is scant difference between "a perfect body" and a "dangerously underweight body"; and, assuming that the body in question was deliberately being maintained, automatically assuming that there is an eating disorder in effect may be perceived as offensive. For this reason, the topic of eating disorders, as well as attempts by the friends and family of a victim to seek help for that victim, is seen as an issue where it is easier to avoid a minor inconvenience while risking the victim's health than to risk embarrassment if there is a problem.
In the public consciousness, one eating disorder is foremost: Anorexia. To aid discussion of eating disorders, a brief discussion of this particular eating disorder shall be entered into
Anorexia or, as it is more properly known in medical circles, Anorexia Nervosa ( "Nervous Anorexia"), affects between 8 and 13 per 100,000 people depending on the demographics of the population being examined. Anorexia is the most commonly known eating disorder to the general public, due to media exposure. Indeed, this exposure causes many people to heap all eating disorders, or under-eating disorders, into a single category under the name anorexia. This is both a symptom and cause of more ignorance and misunderstanding faced by people trying to deal with eating disorders – someone with an unrelated eating disorder may be told (by friends and family) to seek treatment designed for anorexia sufferers which will provide no help to them; similarly, someone suffering from Anorexia Nervosa may be told to seek a treatment method which was observed being administered to someone with an unrelated eating disorder.
Anorexia is characterized by a fierce mental compulsion not to consume food at all, lest this cause the victim to become overweight and a gross distortion of body image, which causes the victim to believe he / she is overweight no matter what weight they really are. Someone who is perceived by other people as a mere bag of flesh and bones may she him / herself as grossly, morbidly obese and will seek to fix this perceived problem by eating yet less. It is not uncommon for chronic untreated cases of anorexia to cause death by starvation to the sufferer.
Due to specific societal conditions, understanding of eating disorders is limited. Many are ignored out of convenience and fear of embarrassment, while some people prone to hypochondria even wish to be seen as afflicted by this terrible disease. Eating disorders are terrible in this way because they are of the type Nervosa – caused by nervous system reactions and not transmitted as most diseases are by bacteria and viruses. Eating disorders are truly a disease borne of the modern age. Only through education of friends and family, as well as abolition of the senseless taboos associated with them, will eating disorders be conquered.