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It’s time to talk about eating disorders

February 20, 2011
By CATHY BROWNFIELD, Family Recovery Center

Beginning today you are looking at National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week. The message: Community involvement is needed to combat eating disorders that affect about 10 million females and 1 million males across the country. It is estimated, too, that there are 15 million who struggle with binge eating disorder. This year's theme: It's Time to Talk About It.

The National Eating Disorder Association is working "to prevent eating disorders and body image issues, reduce stigma[of] eating disorders, and improving access to treatment."

According to the Academy of Eating Disorders (, eating disorders are "serious mental illnesses with significant medical and psychiatric morbidity and mortality, regardless of the individual's weight." Morbidity is the rate at which the disease occurs. Mortality is the rate of death due to the disease.

Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and unspecified eating disorders such as binge-eating disorder. Obvious symptoms may exist. Perhaps children or adolescents haven't gained adequate weight for their age. There may be weakness, dizziness, exhaustion, syncope (fainting) associated to a temporarily insufficient blood flow to the brain, often occurring when the blood pressure is too low and there isn't enough oxygen to the brain.

Other symptoms to watch for include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, seizures, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, depression, insomnia, hair loss, suicidal thinking and others.

We live in a culture saturated with unrealistic body-image messages and almost all of us know somebody struggling with an eating disorder, advises NEDAwareness. "Eating disorders are serious disorders, not lifestyle choices." At least 50,000 will die as a result of an eating disorder.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. It typically begins early in adolescence. It has the highest death rate of any mental illness. But it doesn't have to be. Recovery is possible.

Someone with anorexia has dramatic weight loss. This person is preoccupied with weight, food, calories, dieting. They won't eat anything that might add weight, such as carbohydrates. Even if they are very thin, they complain that they weigh too much, are fat. They avoid meals and any situations in which food is involved. They don't hang out with their friends anymore and they don't participate in the things they used to enjoy.

When a person eats a lot of food in a short amount of time (binging) and then tries to prevent weight gain by getting rid of the food (purging), that is bulimia nervosa. A person with bulimia doesn't think they can control the amount of food that they eat. They might exercise a lot, eat little or not at all, or take pills to pass urine to prevent weight gain. Weight might be fine, but bulimics worry about gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are very unhappy with their body size and shape, advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

People struggling with binge eating disorder are distressed, ashamed and guilt-ridden over their eating behaviors. In addition to frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time, they eat when they aren't hungry and they eat in secret.

What should you say to someone you care about who may be struggling with an eating disorder? The National Eating Disorders Association recommends setting a time to talk privately and respectfully about the problem openly and honestly in a caring, supportive way. Share your concerns. Ask your friend to talk to a counselor, doctor, nutritionist or other health professional knowledgeable about eating issues. Don't engage a confrontation or a battle of wills. Just share your concerns and let them know you are there if they ever need to talk to someone.

Avoid placing blame. Don't try to shame them or make them feel guilty. And don't offer simple solutions like, "If you'd just stop, then everything would be fine."

For an online screening to see if you or someone you care about may have an eating disorder, visit online, For more information about eating disorders, contact Family Recovery Center, 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, FRC promotes the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. The agency can help you get onto the road to recovery.



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