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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.

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Dessert Dishes

Part 2 of Chapter 2 of Runaway Eating: What is Runaway Eating?

The restricting runaway eater is like a person with anorexia nervosa, but milder. Still, such a person tends to worry about getting fat. She might override her hunger signals and cut back her food intake to dangerously low levels.

215183766_aeb65e4daeWhile some restricting eaters stop feeling hungry, most have the strong desire to eat and think about food all the time. The other interesting thing to them is being thin and in control. They may check the mirror and buy clothes that are too small, hoping to someday fit into them.

The difference between a restricting runaway eater and a woman with anorexia is weight. An anorexic has dangerously low weight. The restricting runaway eater may have weight a little lower than average, or normal weight. It’s only a matter of time before her weight drops altogether. Also, she may not restrict as much or as consistently, going through periods where her food intake is normal. However, the food obsession and fear of gaining weight is a constant and close companion.

It’s important to recognize the difference between the restricting runaway eater and the person who is just thin. The naturally thin, like me, don’t always think about food except at mealtimes. She eats until her body tells her to stop, then goes about her business. The restricting runaway eater is obsessed with her weight. How she feels about herself is dependent on whether she can control her food intake. It’s all about her ability to stay thin, become thin, and lose weight. It means self control and achievement to her. She also has a distorted sense of her body size.

2591450932_231d674b69What can restricting do to someone’s body? Vital functions will slow down to conserve energy. Metabolism slows down. Blood pressure drops. You might feel light-headed, dizzy, or cold. Or all three. If body fat drops low enough, your period might stop. You won’t be able to have a baby, because your body realizes that your food supply is too low to support another life. If you are already pregnant, there’s an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and birth defects. You can also get osteoporosis.

As if those weren’t bad enough already, there are some extreme effects as well, as if this wasn’t bad enough. Effects such as anemia, kidney failure, heart failure, and death to name a few.

What can it do to your mind and emotions? You may become depressed, withdrawn, or irritable. At night, you might also suffer from insomnia, and when you do sleep, you might dream about food. Your eating habits, obviously, will change. You might eat by chewing each bite a certain number of times, or cutting your food into small pieces. You might even hide your food.

2907586559_5d23b494f8On the other hand, you may also suffer from anxiety, OCD tendencies, perfectionism, and hopelessness. Each feeds the other. Your feelings feed the disordered eating, while the eating feeds the feelings. It’s a deeply destructive cycle.

Restrictive eating also takes a toll on relationships. One with this disorder would avoid events with food — basically all of them. I had a friend who didn’t want to go to another friend’s wedding because food was going to be there and she didn’t want to “screw up.” She may also lie about her eating habits. Prospective partners can be turned off, being tired of being asked, “Do I look fat?”

Next up: The Bingeing Runaway Eater

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.