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Anorexia Nervosa Health Center

Becoming 'the Best Anorexic Ever'

Battle With Food
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'It Becomes a Friend' continued...

"The people I talked to described the early phases of anorexia as being quite seductive," says Warin. "People often don't want to give up their eating disorders. They enter into a relationship with anorexia and it becomes a way of coping. Many sufferers personify it, and even give it a name. It becomes a friend, the enemy in disguise, an abusive lover, someone they can rely on."

Figures suggest that approximately 8 million people in the U.S. have eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and 7 million of them are women. The overwhelming majority of sufferers develop the disorders in their teens and early 20s.

Eating disorders expert Michael P. Levine, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Kenyon College in Ohio, agrees the sense of identify that often accompanies anorexia frequently complicates treatment. He recalled a poignant interview many years ago with a 19-year-old struggling to recover from the disorder.

"She had never had a menstrual period, she had very few friends, and she spent a lot of time in therapy or alone," he says. "With tears in her eyes, she told me that she struggled every day with anxieties about food. She said she wanted to recover, but it was hard. And she looked me in the eye and said, 'At least when I was anorexic, I was somebody.'"

'The Best Anorexic Ever'

National Eating Disorder Association spokeswoman Holly Hoff says perfectionism and competitiveness are common traits in young women who develop eating disorders.

"There is often a strong, strong drive to be perfect, and even with the eating disorder they want to be perfect," she says. "That is why group treatment settings can be problematic. They may hear things that other people are doing and they may think they are not going as far as they could."

Vivian Hanson Meehan, president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, agrees.

"Often what happens when you see anorexics in a group is that they start to compete with each other," she says. "They are vying to be the best anorexic ever. But the best anorexics are dead."

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