Anorexia - a disorder more common than we assume

In Slovakia, women with the eating disorder weigh as little as 30 kilograms. They have little physical strength and their behavious is similar to drug addicts. Anorexia is on the increase in Slovakia and Katerina Richterova has been investigating:

A very interesting webpage I came across. You register to the online diet diary and every day write your daily menu into the page. All the food that you consumed is then reviewed by your "dietary" friends, who will either encourage you in your fight against high fat products, or will praise you for starving yourself on that day.

Browsing through the page, I clicked on the icon, "most successful members". The queen of all dieters is Sylvia who used to weigh 64 kg and has now gone down to some 38 kg. Is this success, or did something go wrong? Specialists call it eating disorder, an illness possible in the form of either anorexia or bulimia, or both at the same time. Peter Cernak, head of the psycho-somatic department in the Philip Fenol hospital, says the numbers of patients suffering from eating disorder is increasing.

"It's very alarming. I dare say this is one of the most serious problems within today's society. I remember that before 1989 a patient with mental anorexia or bulimia was an incredible rarity. And then all of a sudden, with the political, economic, social changes came also new role models that brought about many cases of mental anorexia, mainly with young girls."

... one of the negatives of capitalism. In 1996 there were just under 2000 patients treated for mental anorexia. In 2003 this number had more than doubled. But magazines are not the only reason for this sad trend, says Maria Vojtova, a youth counselor.

"I think that to a great extent, family and the atmosphere in society are the two key factors in anorexia. Families put great emphasis on how they are seen by the outside world, and problems are usually hidden. Certainly magazines influence young people. But this is where the well functioning family should come in. If it has a healthy approach to appearance and perfection, the child should not suffer from these social pressures."

... which, as Mrs. Vojtova says, are strong and extremely difficult to resist.

A short browse through some Slovak weekly magazines. A model on the cover ... and another model, well, all these magazines, widely read by teenage girls, provide the same picture. The young, rich, beautiful and skinny! What role models!

"This illness usually starts in the teenage years, so this is the most endangered age group. However, the illness gradually develops and becomes worse and more dangerous. At its worst it is usually found in women in their 20s, or 30s. Men and boys can also suffer from eating disorders, but very small numbers, not more than 1-2 percent, of all such patients are male."

Anorexia usually starts in the teenage years and can be spotted in a certain type of girls, says counsellor Vojtova that comes into contact with high school girls on a daily basis.

"It is usually girls that are diligent, extremely good students, striving for proficiency. Once they are not well prepared for school, for example they can get very anxious. Typical for these girls can also be isolation from their peers, or being shy."

0.2 - 0.8 percent of students at secondary schools have mental anorexia. That means that in every school there is at least one person suffering from anorexia.

"Schoolmates often notice that a girl is not eating properly and they are often the ones to let the parents know about the problem and to want the girl to be helped. I would say high school students today are well informed about eating disorders."

As shocking as it may sound, girls who suffer from anorexia are now even as young as 12 - 13. The most frequent reasons for turning anorexic is the strong desire to be attractive, popular and loved. Then there is peer pressure. And some girls want to be skinny to become models or actresses. These and many more reasons make girls start counting calories. Anna is a girl, who is a cured anorectic. Age - 14, height - 184, weight - 45 kg. She feels too fat. Now 10 years later and much wiser she looks back.

"I was fourteen years old and I was a basketball player and my father called me a fat girl and it wasn't true but I believed it. So I stopped eating and slept a lot. I was very weak and I was angry, sad, without interests and any passion."

Under the threat of needles and injections in her body Anna started to eat. Her healing process took only about nine months, however food and eating for her today is not carefree. She has to carefully choose food and eat only the healthiest products, eat regularly, watch out for the right amounts... and well, counting calories is on her mind with every bite she takes. What a story for my dietary friends on the net!