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It has been a year since she managed to get out of the nightmare that did not allow her to love herself. At the age of 18 she had arrived to 32 kilos of weight while being 1,70m tall, basically a ghost. Now Juliana feels better; she eats and is serene. But she has not forgotten the pain anorexia has caused her and therefore she speaks about it to other young women. “Many doctors, and even my family members – she says – did not believe anymore in my recovery because of the many clinical complications”.

Yet, she has succeeded… “I would say that it takes courage to go against yourself at a moment when you are actually not, that is to say, to hurt yourself in an attempt to do yourself good”.  Those words alone, complicated and disarming at the same time, suffice to give an idea of how devastating the problem. At stake there are the psychology of a person, the distraction of the society, wrong models, alarms that are constantly minimized, and even the existence of websites that capture young people and push them towards authentic death.

A research of the Oxford University has proved that the number of cases reveals a remarkable growth. Scholars argue that the problem is underestimated because generally it is limited to women alone. This is not entirely true. Eating disorders are widespread also among male individuals. To provide statistics with defined numbers is still complicated (in Italy there are thought to be 3 million people with eating disorders, that is, 5% of the population). This happens because the phenomenon has been taken into consideration from a clinical point of view only recently, and because there are still cases that have not been reported nor followed by doctors.

Also the causes of the eating disorders – affirms a study of the Italian Ministry of Health – are not well-defined and certainly not univocal, but dependent on numerous factors that comprise both psychological and biological factors. Difficulty in defining the contours of the problem makes everything further more challenging. And often, those who fall ill are left alone with their ghosts. International epidemiological studies lead to estimate, among women between 12 and 22 years of age, a prevalence of anorexia nervosa at 0.0 -0.9% (average: 0.3%) and of bulimia at 1-2 %. At last, 3.7 -6.4% of the population is thought to be  affected by non-specified eating disorders (Nas eating disorders): for those forms the average starting age is around 17 years.

Numbers and proportions behind which there are people. “To read the stories of other young women- says Juliana – produces a strange effect of sadness for their suffering, for the many young women who were not able to fight, who, on the contrary, committed themselves to self-destruction, for those who have asked for help without obtaining any”. She, who has tried the absurd feeling of hating herself, defines anorexia as “an emotional virus that consumes all vital energies”. A description that gives the shivers, more effective than numerous medicine manuals.

The first trench is the family, but often it is the inattention inside this fundamental cell that causes the worst injuries. At this point,  you look for help elsewhere and you find Aba, the bulimia and anorexia association founded in 1991 by Fabiola De Clercq. For over 20 years doctors and psychologists have been available to help those who consume themselves from the inside and cannot find a way out. Sometimes they lose battle, and it hurts everyone,  often they win it. “Information is a great weapon against anorexia – goes on Juliana – especially when it warns against the consequences one is moving towards, even when it does so in a rough way”.

Usually everything begins from a slimming diet; the aim is, apparently, to improve one’s image. What actually happens is that the diet turns into an inner imperative to eat more and more ridiculous quantities of food. In other cases, the destructive vortex is triggered by a desperate search for attention. In both cases, there is a pressing need to “exist” and to be “visible”. Paradoxically, happens the opposite: one becomes slim to the point of disappearing. In truth, however, the anorexic is hungry, but not for food: for relations, affections, emotions.

All this has dangerously arrived also on the Internet, where pro-Ana (as anorexia nervosa is called) websites are proliferating. “This is a blog run by several young women with a pro-Ana philosophy. Ana is not a disease, but a philosophy, – it is written on a website monitored by the Ministry of Health – a way of life”. A slap in the face of suffering. But truth is different: the prevailing relativism in which we live, every position seems verisimilar.

From a clinical point of view, one dies because the body, after it has burned all that can be burned – sugars at the very beginning, then reserves and fat, and after having eaten itself, – in the end burns the muscles; from this combustion derives an excess of ammonia which is highly harmful to our body and which cannot be eliminated via urine, as it happens in normal physical conditions, and therefore leads to death. It can also happen – although more rarely – that the heart, weakened, cannot resist anymore and this leads to a cardiac arrest.

People who suffer from this disorder are physically more fragile, therefore their immune cease to work properly, a fact that makes them more prone to diseases. And their getting better, if it happens, is infinitely more problematic than that of healthy people. This is anorexia: a way to die rather than “a way of life”.

Translated by Ecaterina Severin

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