Sunday, February 26, 2012

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

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By Diane Forrest, RN

Yesterday we talked about eating right, making healthy choices and the recommended daily requirements.  Today is the start of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  When I think of eating disorders, the first person I think of is Karen Carpenter.  I was shocked when I learned of her death in 1983.  It was reported that she died from Anorexia Nervosa, a condition I knew nothing about.  Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by an obsessive fear of gaining weight.  It usually begins in high school; they become thin by not eating, from a distorted body image.
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People who have anorexia:
  • Weigh much less than is healthy or normal;
  • Are very afraid of gaining weight;
  • Refuse to stay at a normal weight; and
  • Think they are overweight even when they are very thin.

Their lives become focused on controlling their weight. They may:
  • Obsess about food, weight, and dieting;
  • Strictly limit how much they eat;
  • Exercise a lot, even when they are sick; and
  • Vomit or use laxatives or water pills (diuretics) to avoid weight gain.

Some physical signs include:
  • Low body weight;
  • Low blood pressure;
  • Low body temperature;
  • Constipation;
  • Thin dry hair and nails;
  • Decreased or stopped menstrual cycle;
  • Obsession with food; and
  • Thoughts of suicide.

You can help these people by offering to talk, listen, and if you suspect thoughts of suicide, encourage them to seek help, or call the suicide prevention hotline. (1-800-273-TALK)
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Bulimia is another eating disorder; some people who suffer from bulimia also have anorexia.  Bulimia is an illness in which a person binges on food or has regular episodes of overeating and feels a loss of control. The affected person then uses various methods -- such as vomiting or laxative abuse -- to prevent weight gain.  I remember watching a movie about this woman who would eat so much food.  She would go to different drive thru windows around town.  Then take this food to a secluded place, eat it then induce vomiting.  Back at her home, she had dozens of jars in her closet, full of vomit, to hide this problem from her family.

There are no answers to the cause of bulimia; Genetic, psychological, trauma, family, society, or cultural factors may play a role. Bulimia is likely due to more than one factor.
In bulimia, eating binges may occur as often as several times a day for many months. People with bulimia often eat large amounts of high-calorie foods, usually in secret. People can feel a lack of control over their eating during these episodes.

Binges lead to self-disgust, which causes purging to prevent weight gain. Purging may include:
  • Forcing oneself to vomit;
  • Excessive exercise; and
  • Use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics (water pills).

Symptoms can include:
  • Compulsive exercise;
  • Throwing away packages of laxatives, diet pills, emetics (drugs that cause vomiting), or diuretics;
  • Regularly going to the bathroom right after meals; and
  • Suddenly eating large amounts of food or buying large amounts of food that disappear right away.

There is really no treatments for bulimia, people who suffer from it rarely seek treatment because there is no real health problems.  Support groups and psychotherapy groups may help.  If you suspect someone has an eating disorder, please encourage them to seek help.

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For more information about eating disorders, please visit this site:

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