Column: Early warning signs of eating disorders

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2004

By Staff
Last week I wrote about eating disorders and what they are all about. I wrote about what anorexia and bulimia are and the problems that these disorders can cause to the body. This week we will take a look at danger signs, things to be careful of after recovery, possible treatment and shocking information I found on the internet.
Danger signs
Anorexia: Loss of a significant amount of weight, feeling they are fat even though they are thin, intense fear of gaining weight, loss of monthly menstrual periods, preoccupation with food, fat or calories, prefers to eat alone, likes to cook for others, hair loss, gains downy soft hair all over the body, faints, always feels cold, excessive exercising, depression, anxiety, dry brittle skin, is obsessed with looking at magazines with emaciated models, lies about what they have eaten, wears very bulky clothing, and withdrawing from family and friends.
Bulimia: Binging or eating uncontrollably, hiding food, using bathroom after meals, purging by vomiting, excessive exercise, using laxatives, water pills or weight loss pills, mood swings, depression, swelling of the glands around face, blood shot eyes, bloating, weakness, sore throat and heartburn.
If you feel that someone you know may have a problem it may be hard to get her help. Like I said last week, usually the help has to come from within the person with the disorder. Also, keep in mind that the person with the disorder likely will not admit or think that they have a problem. Being admitted into the hospital for help is a great avenue to try. The professionals at the hospital are trained to work with the specificity of eating disorders. There are also individual and group psychotherapy sessions, counseling, medical and non-medical practices. Having the person speak with someone who has recovered from this illness can help her relate to how they are feeling. The sooner this disease is caught the easier it is to cure.
After a person has recovered from the disorder there are some things that family and friends need to be aware of. Just because this person has gotten help and seems better, does not mean she can never have this problem again. The eating disorder will always be with her. Just like alcoholics and smokers, once she quits, there are always situations that may send her into relapse.
Scenario 1: One evening a recovering anorexic sits down for dinner and finishes everything she put on her plate. Her grandmother says to her, "Wow, Anna, you ate good tonight." Anna asks, "What do you mean by that?" Her grandmother replies, "Well you ate all your food. Usually you do not finish what is on your plate." Instantly Anna feels like she is fat.
Scenario 2: Anna and her friends are looking at the pictures they just got developed from their summer trip. In one picture, the angle of the camera made Anna look chubby. One of her friends jokingly says, "Gosh Anna you look fat in this picture." What could happen in this case? Anna will probably feel depressed, fat and may try to lose weight again.
Scenario 3: Anna is 5'5", 115 pounds, and very thin. She is out with her friend who is 6'0" and weighs 110 pounds. Her friend remarks, "I feel so fat today." What is Anna thinking? "If my friend thinks she is fat then what does she think of me? She is seven inches taller and five pounds skinnier."
These are basic scenarios that happen all the time. People who do not have the disease would never know that what they say might cause these kinds of reactions and relapses.
I decided a few weeks ago to go onto the internet just to see what they offer for people with these types of disorders. To be honest I was appalled. After typing in eating disorders I came to some links that actually promoted eating disorders. Unbelievable! One page I came a crossed was titled "Tricks". This girl who has anorexia asks for people to email her with tricks to add to her anorexia and bulimia page. It tells you what to do to make yourself throw up easier, what to do with your food when you are at a restaurant and the list goes on.
The other day I was looking through a magazine and it had an article about the internet having these types of articles. This magazine found Web sites that would take a famous woman's face and add an emaciated looking body on her. Their point is to add encouragement to these self-destructive behaviors. People wrote in asking how they could make it easier to throw up and what to do about being hungry.
The magazine editor was able to get a hold of Yahoo! and they replied, "We're not responsible for the groups that pop up." With the First Amendment protecting these Web sites, there is not much to do. Eating disorder groups have tried to stop this from happening, but without success.
The most terrible thing about these Web sites is that there is nothing that tells these people that they very well could die. Yahoo! does host sites for recovery, but how does that help when one site says this: "Yesterday, I went 43 hours without food," the writer boasts. "I wasn't hungry at all -- see, food calls to food." She ends it by saying, "Yes, I am so proud of my lack of need."
Thought of the week: Instead of putting others in their place, try putting yourself in their's.
Do not forget to sign up for the Niles-Buchanan YMCA fall adult softball league.