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(EDITOR’S NOTE: David Chartrand is an adjunct and the writing coach for a small class of student journalists at Benedictine College where I’m an adjunct. The following editorial piece is a sample of some of the students’ work.)

Eating disorters

by Nora Bingaman

Eating disorders are among the cruelest diseases, afflicting many but outwardly visible to few.   Like the characters in science fiction movies and novels, the victims of eating disorders are trapped inside a world of misleading and fake images, unable to save themselves from the villains of these deceptions. It is nearly impossible to form a healthy self-image

 in a world that shows us that every flaw and failure can be easily fixed by Photoshop, a diet, or workout craze.

Society obsesses over perfect bodies. The obsession is fueled by technology in general and the Internet in particular. It began years ago with Photoshop, Adobe’s wildly popular, and expensive, photo-editing software. Nowadays any number of inexpensive smartphone apps can import a photo and remove every blemish, every wrinkle, and every double chin. In the way popular trends are turned into verbs, the act of digitally altering one’s appearance is now referred to as “photoshopping.”

Technology has created an accidental evil, one that invites before-after experiments on one’s self-esteem. The temptation is hard to resist.  Only the best adjusted are strong enough to look the other way when the Internet offers an opportunity to try out other versions of face, nose, cheekbone, waistline, complexion.  It can be a fun game to play as long as contestants remember that it’s only a game.   For those dissatisfied with their bodies, Facebook can be an especially difficult pill to swallow.  Such social media forces those with personality disorders to consider how their own desperate lives stack up against the lives of those who flood the news stream with cheery news and glamorous pictures. Those making such comparisons rarely stop to consider that it’s as easy to fake a cheerful outlook as it is to post a phony photo.

Behind every Hollywood special effect is a real-life, mortal human who cannot fly with a cape or spit fire like a dragon.  Behind every altered photo is a mortal face and body that can use a mouse and cursor to transform his or her esteem. Hollywood autograph hounds are often shocked to discover that Kim Kardashian and Cameron Diaz don’t look so glamorous in real life. So, too, those who meet the owner of a Photoshopped face are likely to register surprise or disappointment, compelling the unphotoshopped human to take even more drastic measures. When make-believe fails to alter reality, those with damaged self-esteem eventually declare war on their own bodies.  The weapons of last resort include anorexia nervosa, binge eating, bulimia nervosa, and other disorders.

The National Associations of Anorexia and Associated Disorders notes that such eating disorders can lead to life-threatening consequences. Many victims end up with a damaged heart, digestive system, and deterioration of bones and teeth. Half become mentally ill, falling into major depression; many give up and attempt suicide.

Experts agree that the lifespan of such individuals depends upon early detection of the warning signs.  But anorexia nervosa (an obsession with food and body image, to point of self-starvation) and bulimia nervosa (cycle of binge eating and purging) often go unnoticed — and untreated — because the symptoms are not easily, or quickly, spotted.  Different eating habits produce different behavior. These can include rigid diets, trips to the bathroom immediately after eating, secret binge eating, hoarding of food, and chronic use of laxatives.  Other signs include dry hair, nails, and skin and loss of muscle mass. This is how we can help our friends, if we recognize these signs. Time is the enemy; early detection and treatment are the solution.

In Photoshopped America, some will view heavy eating, dieting, and taking pills as a warning sign. Others will see it as normal behavior or a harmless fad.

The devil of the digital age tempts us to believe things that aren’t true, to see things that aren’t there, and to deny the truth seen by those who know and love us.  No mirror, digital or otherwise, can capture the beauty others find in our eyes, ears and hearts.

Victims of eating disorders will not find help in Photoshop, social media, fad diets, and crazes found on the Internet.  They will find it through support groups, and qualified medical treatment.  Treatments can include therapy, both inpatient and outpatient, and nutritional counseling.  Such help is available through organizations such as the Sovereign Health Group (1-888-604-7832), Renew Counseling Center (see addendum), and Alpha New Life Counseling (see addendum).  All three offer trained volunteers who lead the victims of mysterious disorders out of the dark and into the light of a healthier, happier self.

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