What young men and women should know about eating disorders

February 18, 2000|By MEG H. PARTINGTON


- Source: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders



Here are some resources for information on eating disorders: and look at its white pages.

See also: Eating disorders: Warning signs and information

Many young men and women are quietly suffering through a controlling relationship.

The disordered bond is between them and the food they allow - or don't allow - into their bodies.

cont. from lifestyle

"Food becomes their entire focus," says Candace Rutherford, clinical manager of child and adolescent services for Summit Behavioral Health Services in Chambersburg, Pa. "It just becomes a way of life."

When they feel like they're losing a grip on other aspects of their lives, those with eating disorders opt to take charge of how much food they put in their mouths.

"It has nothing to do with food. It has to do with control," Rutherford says.

Types of eating disorders

There are three main categories of eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa often involves starvation, compulsive exercising and loss of menstrual cycles, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Bulimia nervosa involves recurring periods of bingeing, often followed by purging through self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives and/or diuretics or fasting.

Another type of disorder is compulsive overeating. Individuals with this disorder overindulge but don't purge and typically become overweight. They may eat continually throughout the day rather than consuming large amounts of food during binges, according to the association.

The causes of eating disorders vary.

Feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety and loneliness are common factors, along with troubled family and personal relationships, according to Brook Lane Health Services' Web site. Sexual and physical abuse in childhood also are factors that put women and men at risk of eating disorders, as well as other psychological problems, says Ruth Striegel-Moore, a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Ct., and a visiting professor of psychology at Harvard University.

The consequences

The physical effects of eating disorders can be serious, including malnutrition, dehydration and tears of the esophagus, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. A ruptured stomach, erosion of the teeth and gums and damage to the heart, kidneys and liver also can occur.

If a young woman stops menstruating as a result of an eating disorder, she runs the risk of osteoporosis and being unable to have children, Rutherford says.

There are psychological consequences, too.

Depression, shame, guilt, mood swings, low self-esteem and perfectionism are among the repercussions of eating disorders. Family and social relationships also can suffer, according to the association.

Left untreated, eating disorders can be fatal.


Treatment of eating disorders typically combines psychotherapy, a physician and a nutritionist, says Lou Lichti, a Hagerstown psychologist.

The success of medications in treating eating disorders varies, Rutherford says. Those dealing with bulimia and compulsive overeating tend to have more success with antidepressants than those with anorexia, she says.

"Medication is actually not the first choice," Striegel-Moore says, adding that cognitive therapy is favored.

Some counselors treat eating disorders as an addiction from which people always are recovering, similar to alcoholism.

Others, like Rutherford, believe full recovery is attainable, with self-acceptance being the final stage.

Striegel-Moore, an expert on eating disorders, doesn't think the addiction approach works.

"We all have to eat. We don't have to drink (alcohol)," Striegel-Moore says.


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