Tag Archives: ED

Environment.

Part 2 of Chapter 3 of Runaway Eating

Keira Knightley in the dress that sparked the rumors

Keira Knightley in the dress that sparked the rumors

Eating problems tend to run in families. If your parents or siblings have issues, you’re more likely to have them. Genetic factors, environmental stressors, or a dysfunctional family environment all play a key.

Let’s talk about genes first. Back when the tabloids wrote about Keira Knightley being anorexic, she denied it, to People magazine.

Whatever people say about my weight they are all wrong. Hollywood is about the way you look, and I don’t think that’s the healthy thing for anyone. But, if you’re strong and comfortable with yourself, then you’re going to be fine.

The star had shown up to a film premier with a low-cut, backless bronze Gucci dress. (When they say low-cut, it’s low-cut. It goes down to her belly button.) Her rail thin figure sparked many concerns and gossip.

While saying that there was nothing to worry about, Knightley did add that her family had a history of anorexia. Her grandmother and great-grandmother had suffered from the condition, and she also had a lot of friends who had the condition.

nicole-richie-228

Nicole Richie, another rail thin celebrity suspected at some point to have an eating disorder

Her mother, as reported to Times, later shot down the rumor by telling the press that her daughter is like her father.

She has always been thin. She’s her daddy’s daughter, with his long body… [he] was much, much thinner than Keira. When he was Keira’s age, he had to drink milk with honey and eggs, and go training and training and training, just to be a normal weight.

She eats like a horse. I always want to apologise because she can eat anything that she wants and she does not put on weight.

Thus making the rest of us jealous.

The tendency to have an eating disorder or at least suffer from runaway eating can be passed genetically. Families of women with diagnosed eating disorders tend to have high rates of eating disorders. It follows that runaway eating may be passed genetically.

3238651946_97ebbca1b2However, it’s hard to know whether runaway eating is in part a product of genetics while also being in part a product of the environment. Some research indicates that 5-80% of a risk lies in the genes. Environmental factors are 20-50%. The relationship is quite complex.

For example, you might have the genes, but the tendency will only arise when certain environmental factors come into play. It can be something as benign as a wedding, or as serious as coping with a divorce. one stressor is unhealthy dieting. Someone who gets the idea that dieting can help her have a better life can start a diet and then eventually develop an eating disorder.

Disordered eating may also be related to family of origin. Maybe your family placed great importance on control or you had OCD tendencies. Or told you that certain emotions were forbidden, like anger.

2066666462_213cf38dceOr maybe your parents poked into your life, trying to make you live your life how they want you to live your life. Or maybe your parents placed great importance on physical attractiveness, often dieting and exercising while pushing you to do the same.

The authors speculate that if you are a bingeing runaway, your parents could have been distant. They may have expected a lot from you.

There really is no clear-cut division, however. Remember that.

You also have individual risk factors, depending on your personal characteristics.

Someone with a history of being overweight may be familiar with diets and dieting. Though it’s difficult to lose the weight, losing weight is extremely important to you.

Similarly, someone with a history of bulimia or anorexia has a higher chance that the eating disorder will recur. Complete recovery is uncommon though possible, and many women continue to be preoccupied with food.

133132121_b2d1e9da36Or someone with low-esteem might not like herself. She feels bad about herself and her body. She might believe that thinness will make her more lovable, more worthwhile. I know a beautiful woman and mother of two beautiful daughters who believes that she has to stay skinny so that her husband will still love her. Her husband is very loving, and the chances that he will actually leave her are nil. But there it is.

Some people believe that their self-worth is tied to good looks and thinness. This is common among those in the show biz. Their careers depend on them staying slim and beautiful. Rarely, if ever, will you see a fat model/talk show host/TV announcer unless she’s Oprah. (But then she’s trying to lose the weight because she hates not being able to fit into clothes, etc etc.) No doubt, these women are particularly vulnerable because their livelihoods depend on their attractiveness.

That’s also one reason why no one would really be surprised if Nicole Richie or Keira Knightley actually turned out to be anorexic.

398361237_6a71e21d31During menopause, the risk of obesity rises owing to the changes that occur at this point. Women put on inches around their waists. plus the process is stressful, what with the hot flashes and all. No wonder they turn to food for comfort.

Another thing: those with disordered eating or a clinically diagnosed eating disorder tend to be depressed. One fifth of all people (or women?) experience clinical depression at one point. It comes with sadness, low mood, lack of pleasure in usual activities, and thoughts of suicide to name a few.

80-90% of eating disorders are triggered by anxiety or tension. Some try to relieve stress by not eating, or eating large amounts of food. Bulimics eat, then feel anxious until purge. Many live in a perpetual state of anxiety, afraid of food, gaining weight, and a lot of other things.

824627629_ed9fbd2f03Then there are the perfectionists. They are those who, no matter how much they have achieved, never feel happy with themselves or others. There is the normal drive for success, then there is the extreme that is unhealthy. Goals are unrealistic. There was the young lady yearning for perfection. I saw a list of goals. She wanted to reach 54 pounds. Very very unrealistic. She won’t reach it ever, because she’ll die or slip into a coma before she reaches it. To this type of person, mistakes equal disaster.

Some people also have poor problem-solving skills. Some have difficulty facing their problems. They can’t make connections between the problem and the actual solution. They avoid confrontation. Instead of dealing with the problem head on, they abuse food as a response.

There are other personality factors, like the tendency to starve oneself of affection or being very disciplined and self-controlled. Or the tendency to live life with your emotions on a roller coaster ride. These factors differ from person to person. This brings us to a catalyst: dieting.

Misuse

3543178102_f56c8286c8Part 3 of Chapter 2 of Runaway Eating: What is Runaway Eating?

The bingeing runaway eater binges to make herself feel better. Her binges can involve a huge amount of food, or a smaller amount. However, it’s usually high in sugar and easy to eat in large quantities (i.e., ice cream, cake, cookies, peanut butter, jam, honey, or candy).

The binge starts as feeling good, but ends up with the woman feeling disgusted. As the food is eaten rapidly, there is no satisfaction. Sometimes, she’s barely aware of what she’s done. The bingeing runaway eater doesn’t purge, but eats and leaves it at that.

Bingeing is more common than anorexia or bulimia. At the time the book was written, it was not recognized as an official eating disorder. As of now, it has joined the ranks as one of the most common eating disorders among women.

2378980854_6b7c29c50cWhat’s the difference between bingeing runaway eating, overeating, and the binge eating disorder? Overeating is simply eating too much. One time at a sushi restaurant, I ate a bit too much and felt stuffed. It wasn’t because I wanted to run away from my problems. There was no out of control feeling. The runaway type involves eating large amounts within a short period of time, feeling that her eating is out of control. Sometimes she cannot stop unless someone drags her away, she gets tired, or she runs out of food.

The difference between runaway eating and the eating disorder is the frequency of the binges. Those with the disorder binge an average of two days a week for at least six months. Those with the runaway form binge occasionally, and for shorter periods. There’s no firm dividing line, because both forms are all unhealthy.

What can this disorder do to the body? Bloat. Nausea. The inability to breathe because of a distended stomach. The most common consequence of this type of disordered eating is weight gain. Not all with this disorder are overweight. Not all overweight people have this. However, a binge eating disorder can make the problem worse.

295319305_d734d37e92What can this disorder do to the mind and emotions? Depression, anxiety, shame, and self-hatred are only a few things. You may isolate yourself because you don’t want to talk about what you’re going through. You need love and friendship, but you push those aside for the fridge. When you’re focused on food, you cannot look at the things that make life worth living. Your joy in life disappears.

The bingeing/compensating runaway eater binges and THEN compensates for the binge by fasting, vomiting, laxatives, or exercise. This keeps their weight at average to slightly above average.

She’s also afraid of getting fat. She defines her self by her appearance. Not only that, she may find it hard to stick to a diet, and end up bingeing to relieve the stress. After she does so, she panics and think about the food turning into fat.

Here are some things the writers say she might to do compensate:

  • Extremely restrictive diet
  • Fast/starve
  • Throwing up
  • Abuse laxatives, diuretics, or other unhealthy methods to rid their body of food.
  • Excessive exercise

This category also includes those who purge/compensate without even bingeing.

But what’s the difference between this condition and bulimia. Both include a dissatisfaction with how things are with a desire to regain control. Both binge, then purge. The difference is n the frequency and duration. The clinically defined bulimic demonstrates such behavior at an average of at least two times a week for at least three months. The runaway eater does so less often.

How does purging affect weight? It’s ineffective, at most. Restrictive dieting causes metabolism to slow down, making it harder to burn calories. Vomiting doesn’t empty the stomach completely. A lot of what was already eaten is digested. Laxatives work in the rectum or large intestine after calories have already been absorbed. As a result, those with the disorder are not excessively thin; they’re average or slightly above average.

3439892989_d08eeb9011What about excessive exercise? How do you know if you’re doing too much? If you’re exercising more than one hour a day to avoid weight gain, if you get mad at yourself for missing one day of exercise, if you exercise even though you’re injured or exhausted, then you may have this. It’s a common syndrome for those who have undiagnosed eating disorders.

The authors write that at least 75% of people in each category of eating disorder use exercise to try to avoid gaining weight.

There’s underlying issues of control, power, or self-esteem, continues the authors.

I know a woman who tries to exercise to keep the weight off. If she misses a day, she gets unhappy with herself. Her husband once broke a chair at our Christmas Eve party. The chair was already very weak form years and years of heavy butts sitting on it, and he was an average, rather muscular guy. When he sat on it, it cracked. He felt really bad. I heard from his wife that on Christmas day, he called the gym to see if they were open. He wanted to exercise the fat off or something of the sort. Of course they were not. Gyms typically aren’t open on Christmas. Poor guy.

3292145208_6663594d2eWhat can this disorder do to our bodies? The authors write that bingeing stretches out the stomach; however, purging and other ways to get the food out are dangerous enough. Vomiting can irritate/rupture the esophagus. If vomit is inhaled, it can cause aspiration pneumonia. Continual exposure to stomach acid can erode teeth enamel, increasing dental cavities. Those with the money go and have their teeth fixed to white perfection. There’s also dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, chronic kidney problems, and broken blood vessels, to name a few.

2591786412_daecd94f5dLaxatives are dangerous as well. It become impossible to poop normally and intestine problems will abound. Even exercise can make you dehydrated, or you can fracture your bones out of stress, injury, or degenerative arthritis.

What can bingeing/compensating do to your mind and emotions? There’s the feelings of panic. You know that you’re harming yourself, thence the feeling of shame. Depression, guilt, headaches, or exhaustion are direct results. Remember that this is a vicious cycle, meaning that the disorder feeds the emotions while the emotions feed the disorder.

Often, bingeing and purging are done in secret. This damages relationships with friends and family. It keeps you from focusing on the important things in life. People who don’t understand only serve to widen the gap between you and them.

Next up: A warning and a hope

Kinds of Runaway Eating

Part 1 of chapter 2 of Runaway Eating: What is Runaway Eating?

Someone's homemade peach ice cream, off flickr

Someone's homemade peach ice cream, off flickr

The writers give a few examples of Runaway Eating: the kind of eating that is harmful, yet not severe enough to pass for an eating disorder. One would be a woman who severely restricts her eating because she’s afraid to gain weight. She’s not light enough to be anorexic. Or another woman who binges occasionally but not enough to qualify as the binge eating disorder. Or a woman who purges only once a week as opposed to the minimum of three times a week for six months. All of these examples don’t fit the bill, but all of them are out of control and harmful.

People do tend to think that one might wake up one day with an eating disorder. But eating disorders are a gradual decline. The process might start out mild, but worsen over time. When things are unbearable, only then do women seek help for their condition. Those women in the example believe that something’s wrong with their characters. This is the result of many factors. Their eating-related behaviors have run away with them, while they eat to run away from other problems.

Frozen yogurt (strawberry) homemade by the same person

Frozen yogurt (strawberry) homemade by the same person

This isn’t about eating too much. It’s about the misuse of food to deal with problems. This can also include misusing laxatives, or exercising too much. If you turn to food to deal with problems and feel that your behavior is out of control, then you probably suffer from Runaway Eating.

It is also when eating-related behaviors become the primary way to deal with unhappy feelings.

Rather than dealing with these troubling feelings out in the open, she keeps it inside. Trying to hide it, she believes that if she ignores the problem, maybe it will go away. However, this only makes matters worse. After a while, this kind of behavior becomes the standard, until she doesn’t even realize that she’s doing it.

The symptoms and results of runaway eating may not be as extreme as a clinically defined eating disorder. The same attitudes are true. One woman may not starve herself to dangerously low levels like the next, but both are deeply afraid of gaining weight.

205081048_38599d9d00How many have runaway eating? It’s hard to know for sure. Some people don’t consider themselves to have disordered eating, because they don’t “starve” or “throw up.” It’s estimated that up to 25% of females may live with this condition.

Sometimes runaway eating will become a clinically defined eating disorder. Sometimes it will stay low, or even disappear. But still, it’s pretty harmful.

What forms can runaway eating take?

  • Restricting Runaway Eater
  • Bingeing Runaway Eater
  • Bingeing/Compensating Runaway Eater

Remember that some women may bounce from category to category, or have all three conditions at once. The driving forces are similar.

Next up: Looking at these categories in depth.

Runaway Eating

Started a new book . . .

vanilla-cake-ABFOOD0706-dePart 1 of chapter 1 of Runaway Eating: Not for Teenagers Only

Eating disorders is a disease widely known as a teenager problem. Maybe it’s a surprise to find out that eating disorders are not just for teenagers. Midlife women suffer from it. Right now, a disturbing trend involves these older women seeking treatment for eating disorders.

RunawayEat AmzLThe book Runaway Eating by Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., and Nadine Taylor, M.S., R. D. takes a good look at this trend. They also include an 8 point plan to help conquer this kind of thinking. (I will not go through the 8 point plan because there’s a lot of books to read.) This book, is, however, designed to help the reader make informed decisions about health, and is not a medical manual by any means. And if you are suffering from an eating disorder, it’s best to seek a doctors help rather than to turn to a book alone.

The authors define Runaway Eating in the introduction as “consistent use of food or food-related behavior (such as purging or excessive exercise) to deal with unpleasant feelings, and feeling that these behaviors are out of control.” The writers think of this problem as a sort of pre-eating disorder because while the behavior doesn’t match the symptoms of a clinically-defined eating disorder like bulimia nervosa, this disordered eating is marked by a very unhealthy relationship with food.

Often, this behavior is the result of using food to run away from problems.

3533308065_ddc7e89da2Runaway eating runs rampant through society. However, using food as a solution for your problems is no solution at all, as women find out.

Nadine Taylor, a registered dietitian and coauthor of this book, suffered from a mild form of an eating disorder. She was bulimic, yet conquered it.

Runaway eaters are people who otherwise appear to be normal and in control of their lives, yet who have unhealthy relationships with food or their bodies that could interfere with personal relationships, threaten their quality of life, and set them up for future health problems.

By using food to run away from our problems, we find that our eating habits run away with us.

Go on any Xanga blogring or Facebook group devoted to people with eating disorders. You’ll see that they’re populated with young women and teenage girls as young as eleven. You don’t see a whole lot of people older than 30. We’ve heard of the Princess Diana’s bulimic tendencies, and all the young actresses who starve themselves.

However, the people over 30 with this problem are growing. They consist of women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even older! There’s a dramatic increase in women seeking out treatment. It could be because of the growing availability of such programs, and the decrease in the shame of having an eating disorder. Hard statistics are hard to get, because most women don’t seek help until their troubles become unbearable.

diet pills

diet pills

A full-blown eating disorder develops gradually. It doesn’t suddenly appear. Eating disorders range from mild to severe. Most women have a mild form of disordered eating.

Many with eating problems had eating disorders that they never shed when they were young. According to a review, half of those with anorexia and at least one third of those with bulimia carry their problems into early and middle adulthood. However, many women are developing an eating disorder for the first time in their lives. Why?

Maybe it’s because today’s typical midlife woman is more concerned about her appearance. She works outside to home, and worries about being passed over by younger people for jobs, power, attention, and raises. She dislikes being seen as an old grandmother, and may have a fear of aging. Due to changes caused by menopause, her waistline may increase. She’s more likely to seek help for depression.

The most important factor, though, is the stressful life that she leads.

Next up: the many stressful situations a midlife woman faces.

Power Play

“Our bodies are the places where our drive for perfection gets played out.” With this statement, Martin sums up the struggle that many young women face, as they’re flooded with information about effective workouts, the best ways to lose weight, and the best diets.

314510824_a9feb9407cWe like to look at pretty faces. Friends are chosen based simply on whether a potential friend is attractive or not. We want to do business with pretty faces. And we want to marry an attractive person. Gordon L. Patzer pointed this out in his book Looks, and all this stuff is supported by research, sad to say. Teachers like pretty students because they feel that the more attractive students show the most potential. Pretty babies get more love and attention first from nurses at the hospital at birth, and then at home with their mothers. Pretty people seem to have an easier time in life. Employees hire pretty people to make their firms successful. Freelancer Jenna Glatzer writes in her book You Can Make a Real Living as a Freelancer that Cosmopolitan once cut an article: a profile about a modern day wonder woman. Why? Because the “wonder woman” turned out to be overweight.

So we keep chasing after perfection Where does it lead us? Nowhere, except to pain.

Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks

Martin writes that we see beauty as the first impression of total success. She goes on to explain that we see one aspect of a person — nice hair, for example — and assume that she is wealthy and powerful. How many times have we told ourselves that if we are thin (thin = beauty), our lives will be perfect? Beauty will solve all our problems. It will get us the desired man, the desired job, and the desired home. Or perhaps all three.

Martin uses Tyra Banks as an example of a beautiful woman who build her own empire.

I find this coincidence because I stumbled on the Tyra Banks show the other day. She was running something about Botox for a medical condition in a woman’s genitals. SUpposedly it’s supposed to improve some condition so women can have sex again. Then Tyra asked a doctor in the audience, “What do you think about using Botox for this condition?”

The doctor said, “Well, it’s not FDA – approved…”

Ok, remember this post?

3035405786_aa0a472929Moving along…

We see weight as something that we can control. We thus believe that if we exercised a little more control, counting calories, strict diets, strenuous exercise, nice clothes; we would be happy. We just have to “stay strong” and “starve on.” You’re not happy? You’re not “strong” enough. You have to be stronger.

The writer gives a description of a typical “perfect girl” in a typical American town. It’s a good description, and pretty accurate. Yes, we are living contradictions. Yes, we are relentless, while judgmental towards ourselves and forgiving of other people.

We are the daughters of feminists who said, “You can be everything” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”

We grow hungrier and hungrier with no clue what we are hungry for. The holes inside of us grow bigger and bigger.

We are our own worst enemies. It’s that “starving daughter” who must be killed off.

2236055781_25b5fdba44Martin goes on to say that a “starving daughter” is at the center of every “perfect girl.” The face we show to the world is an outward mask that says to our friends that everything is going well. Inside, we’re starving for a lot of things. We’re empty and in need, and they don’t know.

She wants attention. The perfect girl says, “No, you shouldn’t want that.” She is the one that brings us down. She gets scared, nostalgic, sad. The perfect girl wants no part of that.

No one likes this part of them. They view it as a side that is too weak. Meanwhile, they don’t talk about their problems. They fill the black holes in their spirits with the forbidden fruit. Yet they continue to feel empty. We struggle with this. I know girls in my church who do, but are too confused and frightened to speak about it, let alone come face to face with a darker side of themselves. They don’t want to let go of their facade.

185980331_3e8ade3c79And our bodies take the ensuing abuse.

Some people are subtle about the abuse. They pretend to be above such trite things as calorie counting and purging. Such stuff is embarrassing.

Others talk about how horrible their body size is and how fat they are and how much they hate themselves for being so weak. And then they forget about their issues for a while. Their disordered eating is seasonal.

Then there are the diagnosed eating disorders. Go here for a list and description of the three diagnosable disorders as noted by health professionals. I also noted in the same post that several people do have a mix of both bulimia and anorexia and binge eating.

There is EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) which we haven’t talked about yet. These are the people who have an eating disorder but don’t have the required symptoms. They may purge once a week as opposed to three. Some starve but don’t lose their periods or drop in weight. Some have a partial syndrome. They obsess, and have a nagging preoccupation with their weight that they think is normal. They feel that they obsess too much but don’t work out enough.

We don’t consider that maybe we don’t have to live with the obsession.

The media is no help. They show skin-and-bones models and gasp about shrinking celebrities, making us feel that if we’re not dropping out of school, throwing up all the time, or become skeletal, then we’re fine. Our condition is fine. Never mind that we’re miserable.

3061919849_fbbf4783b7Some doctors encourage the attitude. They’re so tired of the obesity epidemic that they’d do anything to get their patients from that extreme. They forget that there is another extreme at the other end. These doctors want rigorous exercise with restraint in diet, no matter who the patient is. Martin interviewed a girl with an eating disorder. This girl saw a doctor in college. She hoped that he’d notice her weight going down and maybe help her. However, he told her to “keep up the good work!”

The author states that an eating disorder merely is a more extreme version of what girls and women face on a daily basis. There’s always some degree of obsessiveness about food and our bodies in everyone. (I don’t think all, but most. Most are still too many.)

We find comfort in being almost as screwed up as everyone else.

Broken Mirrors

Part 1 of Chapter 9 in the book Looks

In this chapter, Dr. Patzer talks about the dark side of physical attractiveness. He tells us facts about anorexia, bulimia, and other unhealthy behavior that may occur.

Deleese Williams

Deleese Williams

The chapter starts with talking about a woman named Deleese Williams. He describes her like this.

Her jaw was deformed, crooked teeth crowded her mouth, her eyes drooped, and her breasts were hard to find.

She had a childhood of endless horror. Her classmates made fun of her. Her marriage was a disaster, with her husband abusing her and letting her know constantly that she wasn’t much to look at. 

Williams had hope when she heard about Extreme Makeover. This was a reality program that gave ugly people like Williams the gift of beauty. People enjoyed watching that show, for whatever reasons. Anyway, she applied to the show in 2003. The producers were delighted. Soon, Williams was meeting with the executives and team. Describing it, she said that the psychologist and the physicians told her that she “needed” her eyes lifted, her ears pulled back, and breast implants as well as chin implants. They also concluded that dental surgery was needed. They promised her that the free makeover would “transform her life and destiny.”

250px-XtrememakeoverHowever, the producers wanted to let the audiences see how being ugly is so very problematic. Beauty is good, and its absence is bad, after all. Remember our first post? They sat Williams in front of a camera and had her describe how being ugly had invited the cruel teasing and abuse by her husband. Even though her family didn’t notice (or pretended not to notice) her ugliness, they were coached to focus on her flaws.

Kellie McGee, Williams’s sister, was reluctant to trash her sister. The producers essentially forced her to do so, however. 

It was tough for Deleese to take. She thought it would be all worth it. Williams believed that her real life could begin at last… happy endings.

Then the bomb fell.

A producer told her that the makover, cosmetic surgery… all off. Why? It didn’t fit in the show’s time frame. The doctors told her that the recovery time and surgery would take a much longer time than the duration of the show.

The tragic part, says her attorney, was that she became too ashamed to go out in public. Even worse, her sister, who had been forced to speak disparagingly about Williams’s looks, killed herself. She had beens struggling with bipolar disorder for some time.

ABC and Disney offered their condolences, yet said that they bore no responsibility since Deleese had known that they could call the whole thing off at any time.

empty-plateBeyond this example, physical appeal centered media messages continues to encourage unhealthy conditions on millions.

Eating disorders have become common in America. This is accompanied by a preoccupation with food and weight, and those with an ED often share physical symptoms with those who have experienced starvation. This is also marked by an obsession with food.

In 2003, a team led by Dr. Hans Steiner of Stanford University learned that mothers with eating disorders demonstrated greater concern over their children’s eating habits. By the time the children were age 5, they displayed the same symptoms found in teenagers with eating disorders. He was surprised to learn that half of the children of elementary age wanted to weight less. Three-fourths cited their family as the primary source of dieting related information.

There are three distinct types of eating disorders, not counting EDNOS.

1. Binge eating

2. Bulimia Nervosa

3. Anorexia Nervosa

3092_MEDIUMBinge eating is uncontrolled eating. It’s frequent, and very common. It’s accompanied by the feeling of being out of control. People who binge eat often feel depressed, guilty, or disgusted when they do so. 

I know a few girls who have problems with binge eating. In fact, I know a lot. However, in their case, the binge is followed by a purge. This brings us to bulimia nervosa.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine has described this condition as a serious, life-threatening eating disorder affecting mainly young women. They eat large amounts of food, then try to lose all the calories by fasting, exercising, or vomiting or using laxatives. This is known as “purging.” At first, it was hailed as a new weight loss trick. The women could eat whatever they want, and then throw it up later. They’re not gaining any calories, and they still get the cravings down, right?

Wrong. This is an extremely unhealthy practice. It’s even considered a psychiatric illness. 

248012174_7b1ca0a9aaOver 2 million people suffer from this. In rare instances, bingeing can cause the stomach to burst. Purging brings heart failure from loss of vital minerals. Vomiting leads to acid-related scarring of the fingers (once I saw a site where a girl, knowing this, encouraged her friends to vomit using the end of a toothbrush instead of their fingers). The esophagus becomes inflamed from acid burns. There’s also irregular menstruation, to name only a few.

Few are able to stop this behavior without professional help. It seems to me that they have really lost control. 90% are women in their teens or early 20s. Many live secret lives in that they appear to be doing well on the outside, but run off after meals to purge in their bathrooms.

The root causes remain mysterious. Maybe it could be genetic and environmental. It could be due to family pressures, like in the case of one girl I know. Girls with eating disorders often have fathers, mothers, brothers, or boyfriends who criticize their weight. 

I do know some people who are bulimics but starve themselves for periods. This brings us to anorexia nervosa, a still more dangerous condition. 

367429618_9d69054abcAnorexia nervosa is self-induced starvation. The person with it refuses to eat. Even though she’s becoming thinner and thinner, she still sees herself as far too heavy. A few starve themselves to death, but most have life-shortening health disorders from lack of nutrients.

This disorder brings the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness. 6% to 10% die. That’s a higher rate than for cancer. It’s the most challenging disorder to treat, as it involves dealing with the physical and emotional issues as well as with body image distortion. 

Dr. Joel Jahraus, a nationally known expert on eating disorders, talked about one of his patients. Her name was Anna Westin, and he described her as a lovely young woman. However, she struggled with anorexia nervosa. Her body weight was dangerously low, and her moods changed fast. Dr. Jahraus, seeing this, recommended hospitalization.

Anna Westin

Anna Westin

However, the insurance company didn’t want that. They said that she wasn’t ill enough to get hospitalized. For a brief time, though, they agreed. She was stabilized with IV nutrition and psychological work. After that, the company declared that she should be treated as an outpatient. When Anna found out, she lost  motivation to continue treatment. “I can’t be that bad,” she said.

A few weeks later, Anna intentionally took her own life by swallowing an overdose of diet pills.

Her parents established the Anna Westin Foundation, which was dedicated to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and raising public awareness to the cause. This included the Anna Westin House, which combines treatment with cost-effective care. Maybe it’s something you should look into.

I  have also seen many sites raised to help those struggling with eating disorders. No, it’s not what you think. These sites offer tips (links not for the faint-hearted) on how to purge without parents and friends finding out. There’s lots of tips on how to disguise that you’re starving yourself, with pictures of bony celebrities as inspiration to starve. Many of these girls, looking for acceptance, turn to these sites to find it. At least they’ll find someone who understands what they’re going through, they think. They’re encouraged by words like, “Stay strong! Starve on!” Sometimes these words are what keeps them going when they’re discouraged. After a while, they start believing that they are not ill. No, it’s a lifestyle choice.

WOODENSCALEPHOTOThe danger in real recovery is that if one of the girls (or guys) visit the sites, they’ll lose their resolve and continue with the “lifestyle.” Their friends will berate them for not being strong enough and not starving like they’re supposed to. I knew a girl who was the biggest tip giver for anorexics and bulimics. She got tons of comments and praise for her “smartness and courage.” And then all of a sudden, something happened. She decided that this wasn’t the way to go. She decided that this could not continue, and she better get healthy as opposed to skinny before she lost it all. 

She lost her audience. People didn’t say anything. They ignored her. For a person who had received upward of 50 comment per post, that was hard for her.

It’s so easy to shatter.

Just looking at the pictures of celebrities that these girls use to keep them starving, don’t tell me that the media has no hand in it. I remember when one of the celebrities (forgot her name) was said to have an eating disorder. There was buzz, and many of my friends praised her as an inspiration and a strong woman for trying to starve herself to perfection.

I felt nauseated.

We shouldn’t be focused on our own bodies when we have this in the world. We shouldn’t be pushing ourselves to starve to skeletons when there actually are children in Africa who have no choice but to starve every single day of their lives. 26,000 children perish every day due to preventable causes: poverty, disease, and hunger. 

Maybe the problem is that we’re too used to looking at ourselves instead of others. We gaze at ourselves in the mirror, and we fail to see the crisis happening around us.

A starving child in Uganda

A starving child in Uganda