March is National Nutrition Month, and a great time to focus on your nutritional health.
Eating disorders are becoming increasingly common in Western societies. Despite educators’ efforts to create greater awareness of anorexia and bulimia, there still remains a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding the facts and consequences of the disorders. In order to get to the root of the problem, more people need to recognize the symptoms, victims, and treatments.
That involves dispelling false notions and pervasive societal myths.
- Eating Disorders Are Limited to Women: Although eating disorders are most prevalent in women, men are in no way immune to them. Men, one million of them in 2005, relentlessly tried to perfect their body image by excessively working out, eating less, or even throwing up their food after a large meal. According to The Wall Street Journal, many men are no longer acting as caretakers in a relationship — a greater number of women than men are excelling in both university education and the work force. With higher salaries and higher education, many women no longer find themselves financially dependent on men. In fact, they are often earning more than their male counterparts. Sometimes men try to compensate for this role reversal by perfecting their bodies. A muscular, slim man can definitely symbolize dominance and overall strength.
- People with Eating Disorders Always Look Underweight: As described by Womenshealth.gov, an online resource provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, many bulimics are normal weight. In fact, some may even look chubby or a bit overweight. In addition to bulimics, those men and women that exercise excessively and count every single calorie may not look emaciated. The media often only shows the most extreme cases of anorexia nervosa in television and movies. There are some signs that you can look for in bulimics, such as: swollen cheeks, overtly clear teeth, and broken blood vessels in the eyes. However, these symptoms are not always obvious.
- Hollywood and Vogue are Responsible for Eating Disorders: True: Constant exposure to images of overtly thin supermodels and actors can affect how we view our own bodies. False: These images are the leading cause of eating disorders. This is a common misconception. Parents often blame skinny celebrities for inspiring anorexia or bulimia; however, there are many other factors that contribute to eating disorders. Many women and men starve themselves or purge after eating as a result of psychological disorders, including (but not limited to): Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Multiple Personality Disorder, Depression, and Bipolar Disorder.
- Eating Disorders Are Hereditary: Currently, scientists are actively trying to find out if eating disorders have genetic causes. Although they have found some correlations, correlation does not imply causation. Eating disorders do not necessarily have to be genetically predetermined. Your environment can affect your eating habits and self-image as well. For example, perhaps your mom is obsessed with being unnaturally thin. It may not pass on to you genetically, but it could pass on to you because of your constant exposure to her ideas and unreal image. At the same time, don’t assume that just because your sister is bulimic or anorexic, you will be too. There could be a variety of contributing factors to her disorder!
- Dieting Will Lead to Anorexia: Many people believe dieting is a gateway habit to future anorexia or bulimia. However, eating disorders are NOT just related to concerns about eating healthy or losing a few pounds. These disorders stem from an extreme obsession with losing weight. If your mind is consistently counting calories (all day long), that would be symptomatic of anorexia. Other symptoms include lying about your food intake and constantly feeling overweight (even though you are not). If dieting always lead to anorexia, we would have many more people with eating disorders. You should not let your weight and eating habits consume you, but still be health conscious about your food intake. Moderation is essential to leading a healthy lifestyle.
- People with Eating Disorders Do Not Eat: Although people with anorexia may not eat very much, they usually do consume at least a small amount of food during the day. Otherwise, they would appear to be emaciated at a much quicker pace. Adolescents who suffer from anorexia may just eat one really small meal in front of others. Or, anorexics may also be bulimic. They may try to please friends and family members by eating large quantities at dinner or lunch. Afterward, in order to get rid of calories, they may make themselves vomit.
- Bulimics Only Vomit to Get Rid of Extra Calories: Many parents and friends are unaware of another common tactic bulimics use to lose weight: Laxatives. Taking laxative pills help people lose weight initially.They usually get rid of water weight. However, consistent use of these diuretics can lead to a dangerous addiction. Constant abuse leaves users feeling extremely fat and bloated every time they eat. As soon as they finish eating, they have to take pills to get rid of their meal. Celebrities like Janet Jackson have admitted to abusing these pills. This can lead to extreme dehydration and internal bleeding.
- Bulimics Purge Everything They Eat: Because vomiting after eating only gets rid of 50% of the calories, bulimics often gain weight from their destructive cycles of purging. In fact, many bulimics who use laxatives only get rid of ten percent of their calorie intake. Those that suffer from this eating disorder believe they are getting rid of everything when they purge. They often overeat during meal times, usually 5 to 6 times more than their normal intake. Furthermore, as the video demonstrates, when your body gets used to purging, you will only lose about twenty to thirty percent of your calorie intake. (Watch the video on the sidebar).
- People Cannot die from Bulimia: Although there are many unfortunate media stories describing deaths from anorexia nervosa, there is little information about deaths from bulimia. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a person with bulimia can be at high risk for sudden death. Purging can be extremely destructive on the heart. It can also cause electrolyte imbalances. The New York Times article reports that bulimia can definitely result in death. Fortunately, Melissa Avrin’s mom is adding to the short list of movies focusing on bulimia.
- Eating Disorders Start at Adolescence: Eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in children. As in adult eating disorders, similar factors can contribute to the same disorders in children. These factors can be environmental, psychological, and/or biological. Mothers seem to have a huge impact on young girls with eating disorders. The Agras, Hammar, and McNicolas study demonstrates that mothers with eating disorders interact differently with their children than mothers without them. Early on, they are less likely to feed their children (a normal amount) during early development stages.
Special contributor: Christine Seivers
In South Florida, The Renfrew Center is well know locally and nationally for their expertise in eating disorders.