Binge Eating and Bulimia

Does the end of the school year overwhelm anyone else or is it just me?  I don’t know if it is a senioritis-type disorder or simply my basic disorganization problem, but I can’t keep my head above water.  I am drowning in a pool of moving-up ceremonies, end of year parties, and make-up games.  It is all fun and wonderful so I shouldn’t complain.  Not that I won’t complain, I am just acknowledging that I shouldn’t.  My plan was to finish eating disorders last week.  But, in addition to dress rehearsals and graduations, I made plans to go see the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met.  In a way, I was working on YesFive while I was there – research.  His clothes are beautiful and tantalizing.  I would have to hit the lottery to justify owning one of his pieces.  Of course, I would have to lose all my body fat and grow 8 inches to look good in one. They seem to have all been designed with an Avatar character in mind, yet he was considered one of the best – a genius.  The real genius in fashion would be the person who could make the average girl feel as beautiful as a supermodel without having to destroy her kidneys and her bone mass.

1.  Bulimia shares several characteristics with anorexia.  Both affect women much more than men, primarily adolescent and young women.  Like patients with anorexia, people who suffer with bulimia often have a warped body image and fear gaining weight.  Bulimia also frequently co-exists with other depression, anxiety and OCD tendencies.

2.  Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia are usually of normal weight.  This makes it easier to hide.  Patients frequently binge eat large amounts of food which is followed by intense guilt.  They will self-induce vomiting or abuse laxatives in an effort to reduce the caloric impact on their bodies.

3.  Behavioral signs of bulimia include visible consumption of a large amounts of food, going to the bathroom right after meals and excessive exercise.  Physical signs include abnormalities of the teeth and gums, sores in the mouth, sores and callouses on the backs of the knuckles, swollen cheeks from enlarged salivary glands and broken blood vessels in the eyes.

4.  Binge eating or compulsive eating is a recently recognized disorder.  People with this disorder, like patients with bulimia, eat excessive amounts of food in one sitting.  They are usually shameful of this and will eat alone or hide their eating.  They will consume food until they are in physical pain but unlike bulimia, do not purge.  Compulsive eaters may maintain a strict diet in between episodes but because of the binge eating, will continue to gain weight.

5.  Treatment for eating disorders is available and effective.  It is complex because the causes of the disorder are so individual.  It takes patience and commitment.  For many patients, treatment is a life-long process.

I consider myself a foodie.  I love to cook.  I love to eat.  Let’s face it, no matter how bad your day, chocolate will still be good.  I am lucky that, except for the occasional weight gain, food and I get along great.  On the wall at the gym it says, “Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.”  This is easier said than done for some.  Patients with eating disorders often have a dysfunctional relationship with food.  Somehow, the stuff in the fridge takes on more power than the stuff in the heart and a struggle ensues.  As evidenced by the pathetic antics of Anthony Weiner, misconstrued power is a dangerous and ugly thing.  Compared to other diseases, the money spent on eating disorder research is pitiful.  A quick-fix is not on the horizon.  As a society, we need to be aware of the signs and the dangers.  We need to find ways to teach our children moderation in eating and encourage healthy attitudes about their bodies.  Any suggestions?

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  • Yes Five

    My heart goes out to you on this and believe me, it is no small thing. As the mothers of daughters, we are always struggling to make sure our girls cultivate a strong self-esteem but it is our responsibility to ensure they are healthy. Obesity is unhealthy. Eating disorders are unhealthy. Walking the fine line is a true balancing act. In our superficial, glamour culture, it is almost impossible to counteract every negative body image message our children receive. All we can do is try. My advice would be this. Focus on the health and not the size. When your oldest daughter complains that her belly is big, don’t disagree or blow her off. Comment that sometimes we get bloated/air in our stomachs when something we eat has too much “junk”. Suggest she drink some water or eat a piece of fruit. If her complaint causes you to suggest something she might not want to do, she will probably stop mentioning it. The attention she gets with comments like, “you are perfect, you are not fat, etc.” will probably make her observe her body more. Force her to observe from the inside, not the outside. For your middle daughter, let that one go. If she is growing taller, she has no weight/size problem. She will eat enough to get through her days and some people are just naturally skinny – never make her finish her plate, just make her try healthy things. As in, don’t let her fill up on cookies but if she is full after half a plate of pasta, so be it. Your youngest daughter is the toughest – as a third girl myself, I sympathize with this kind of pressure. Again, focus on health. Do your best to not mention weight or fat in front of her – even in reference to yourself or someone else. Let her have the junk, after a big glass of water, after a piece of fruit or some vegetables. Even if she still wants it, she will eat less. As a mother, you don’t want her to be overweight b/c you don’t want her to be unhealthy. Re-directing her to something healthy is not superficial. Encouraging a family walk/run is good for everyone. Leave the good stuff out where she can easily grab it. I know from personal experience that sometimes forcing your child whose weight concerns you feels like you are a pagent mom BUT helping her make better choices is your job. Finally, because I could go on an on about this topic, try to limit the conversation in the house about food and body size, appearance and dieting. And, when you really feel the need to say something directly to one of your girls, try to do it in private. Nothing makes a rebel faster than the fear of looking silly in front of others. Good luck.