Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Insight on Eating Disorders

As many of you know, I used to have an eating disorder. While I have no one to blame but myself, I do know that my mom's constant weight-talk that went on (and still goes on) my entire life affected me more than I ever knew (this article talks a bit about how mother's attitudes about dieting and body image affect their children). My mom is certainly not the only women who talks about weight in front of their children, but I think among the thousands of things my mom has taught me, one of the most important thing is to never discuss weight and dieting (unless in a positive way) in front of my own children. Clearly there are many other variables that go into creating the perfect candidate for an eating disorder; for me my Type A personality played a large role. I had sort of a hard time during my junior year of high school and I felt the overwhelming need to control something, and controlling my weight was easy. I was damn good at it, but in a very unhealthy and torturous way.

Here are some eating disorder (anorexia and bulimia) statistics from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health
  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
  • An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males

And what about disordered eating? The Journal of the American Dietetic Association recently published a study that concluded "disordered eating behaviors are not just an adolescent problem, but continue to be prevalent among young adults. Findings suggest that early use is likely to set the stage for ongoing use, and there is a serious need for early intervention"

So even those who don't have full blown eating disorders may still be living a life overly focused on food, fat, calories, etc. After I had anorexia I developed disordered eating, where I ate plenty of calories, but was still constantly preoccupied with food and how it would effect my body. I thought about food constantly, whether in a positive or negative way (when I say positive, I mean that I was still depriving myself to the point where I would get overly excited when I allowed myself a bowl of ice cream). This was not normal, this was disordered eating.

Sometimes I get scared to have children of my own because I really believe that these statistics are only going to get worse as our children plant themselves in front of the TV more often and view weight-related commercials or segments on TV. Or even when they are in school checking their Yahoo mail, and this pops up;

I think I'd rather my child watch porn on TV than view this type of add, with unrealistic cartoon images of someone going from obese, to Barbie thin, making them think this is something they should do in order to be accepted.
And these ads are just the tip of the iceberg. Go ahead and pick up any type of health or fitness magazine and you'll quickly notice that every single picture is of a skinny and fit girl or guy, because, after all, you can't be 30 pounds overweight and healthy. Nope, you must be thin, thin, thin. And gorgeous, of course. The only overweight pictures in magazines these days are ones of the person "before" their diet, always followed by their new skinny and "healthy" picture.

While my eating disorder has been behind me for several years now, I was absolutely elated to receive a package in the mail at work, which contained a book titled; Gaining.

A friend from my high school, who I saw for the first time in several years at our reunion this year, sent it to me. I was so touched. She told me she reads my blog and had recently read this book and thought I might enjoy it.

I found this review from Publishers Weekly on Amazon.com;

Thirty years after Liu penned Solitaire documenting her teenage experience with anorexia nervosa, she recounts her midlife relapse and recovery. Liu exposes many myths surrounding eating disorders, with a combination of research and in-depth interviews with other former anorexics and bulimics. She interviews men and women of various cultural and economic backgrounds to refute the notion that anorexia and bulimia affect only "modern rich white girls." Liu's interviewees range from Rob, a 50-year-old physician, to Jessica, an Australian 25-year-old aspiring actress. Liu devotes many chapters to the impact of family on the anorexic or bulimic, contradicting the accepted belief that the victim is "the sick one"; rather, she locates the starting point of the disease in genetics, family life, shame and personality. Like other victims, Liu finds a history of mental disorders in her family, ranging from alcoholism to obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to Liu, a manifestation of an eating disorder is a call for help and should be treated as early as possible, and she fleshes out facts and statistics with her personal interviews, making this book poignant even for those who have not suffered from an eating disorder. (Feb. 22)

I plan on writing my own review of this book once I am finished.

Here are some good reads on eating disorders that I have recently found online or in magazines. The last one is a blog post I wrote last year.

When Eating Disorders Strike in Midlife

Insights From Eating Disorder Counseling
(Great tips for any clinician working with people who have eating disorders)

Pro-Anorexia Websites
; Kate and Pippa as "Thinspiration"
(This is truly disturbing)

(This was in our local paper yesterday. The stats are startling)

Do You Weigh Yourself?

Question: Do you have any personal or non-personal experiences with eating disorders?

Let's not forget, while most information focuses more on anorexia and bulimia, binge eating disorder and orthorexia (the newest "eating disorder") are also serious eating disorders that can destroy lives. If you or a loved one have signs of an eating disorder, I encourage you to seek help before the problem grows deeper.


  1. Great, honest post. I would be lying if, though males have eating disorders, I said I wasn't happy (for many reasons) I have boys. I do think parents can affect how their children regard food and body image. I don't think the solution is banning all weight/diet/food talk as that's harmful too. My kids have questions about why certain people are larger, what they put into their bodies and about things they hear "gluten", "allergies" etc. Having said that, I don't stand in front of the mirror talking about weight loss.

  2. That is a good point you make about personality types being a factor. This may have been the case for me, i had anorexia.
    I haven't told people who i have meet in the last 4 years my life, even my long term boyfriend, as you don't know what perceptions and assumptions people have about eating disorders, and if telling them would change things. Even though part of me thinks it would be part of me moving forward and accepting perhaps.
    I would be interested to know if you told people you met after your physical recovery?

  3. Very interesting. I find information about eating disorders really interesting even though I've never had one or really come close to having one. My mom talked about weight a lot and luckily my personality type, it somewhat affected me but never motivated me to actually change my eating all that much. I will NOT talk to my kids in a negative way about weight at all, because like you said- the numbers are only going to get worse. If I have a girl, I fully plan to educate her about airbrushing etc- maybe a boy too if he is interested.

    It's also fascinating to me how eating disorders can manifest themselves for different reasons. One of my good friends had an eating disorder in late high school and again in late college. Her mom never talked about weight but it started during a bad relationship with a guy who would always check out super skinny girls in front of her (yes I tried to get her to ditch this guy!), and would "return" when she went through 1 or 2 more rough patches. Fortunately she is now married to a great guy and things are good- I do wonder sometimes though if life gets rough will that be a "comfort" for her?

  4. I've met a lot of friends who've struggled with eating disorders. I think when I went to college, I discovered for the first time just how extremely common they are among females, due to the fact that this is the age when people are more apt to share their experiences with others. I full-heartedly believe that parents need to be extra conscious of how they address the issue of weight and even of how much pressure they put on their kids. I know my mom would always make comments during a period where I gained weight (despite the fact that I was still pretty thin), and it drove me insane. I didn't develop a full blown eating disorder, but it definitely spawned some unhealthy habits during the time. Parents tend to have a hugeee influence over their children, consciously or subconsciously.

  5. great post Gina. I do think parents affect a lot children's propensity to develop ED. I'm glad that my parents never commented about weight and we did not own a scale at home. Aside from that, I think nowadays the media play a big role, much bigger than when I was a kid.
    I'll have these issues in mind when I have my own kids.

  6. Love your blog, Gina and I can really relate to the post.
    I have to give my mom some major credit - she was very careful growing up to never make any comments about weight or her own body image issues (I don't really think she even had any). It wasn't until college, when I moved in with a severe bulimic and severe anorexic (lethal combo) that I developed issues of my own. I saw my two best friends getting skinnier and gaining attention and I wanted to "fit in."
    Now that I'm healthy, I do worry about having a daughter of my own (part of the reason I hope for boys).
    Thanks for the book recommendation - I'm interested to read it.
    I know that it may sound crazy, but I am usually quick to tell friends about my past eating disorder because I am proud I overcame it and really think that there needs to be more strong women who stand up and talk about eating disorders and healthy eating education.

  7. This is a wonderful post, Gina. Your honesty in talking about your experiences with anorexia and disordered eating is so important, and will, I hope, pave the way for more and more people talking about eating disorders and how they affect so many parts of a person's life. I was able to shadow an RD this past spring who focused completely on eating disordered clients, and the sessions I sat in on were so eye-opening. Even having taken classes in nutrition where ED is talked about clinically, I felt like we never really understood WHAT eating disorders are. I learned so much in that week.

    I'm looking forward to your review! I've heard that book is really good and I'd like to pick it up myself.

    Have a great week, Gina!

  8. Great post and thanks so much for your honesty Gina! As a mom of an almost 10 yo daughter and 8 yo boy, its very important for me to talk to my kids about eating healthy foods to stay strong and healthy as opposed to looking a certain way. My daughter's almost 11 yo friend recently made a comment that she (herself) thought she looked fat. (She doesn't) I made a big point to tell her that she has a healthy, strong, beautiful body. Then the friend told my daughter (who is naturally slender)"Your skinny" and my daughter got almost offended...No I'm not! I'm healthy, right mom?". I really hope she keeps this attitude throughout her life! Thanks for sharing what a big influence parents can be!

  9. Thanks for being so candid. I totally agree that there are a lot of "disordered" eating habits that one can have without actually having a bona fide eating disorder (obsessive calorie counting, etc). It's so much more prevalent than most people realize. Scary!

  10. I still feel like I have a pre-occupation with food and exercise. I try my darndest to be normal but those old feelings from my past ED have not completely left. I'm healing though!! Slowly but surely! I read a great book called women, food, and God not too long ago...I HIGHLY recommend it!

  11. Great post honey...

    I know what you mean about having children and them seeing those things...my niece is 8 and she is already making comments about her weight. I remind her that she is beautiful and doesn't need to worry about those things.

  12. I can't wait to read your review of Gaining- I've heard a lot of good things about it but haven't read it myself. I had anorexia for several years beginning in my senior year of high school up until I finally got a treatment that was intensive enough during my junior year of college. Though I've managed to stay healthy since then, I won't lie- I am still more preoccupied with calories/food/weight (though I don't know my weight but in prevention of gaining weight) than one should be. I tend to avoid many foods that have nutritional information on the packaging because I just don't want to know the numbers- i find if i don't know them I am far less affected (which is part of the reason I eat out a lot/buy unlabeled stuff)- same thing with weight, I don't own a scale because I know if I did it would be so easy for me to fall back into obsession

  13. agreed! its so hard for kids and girls to be brought up these days without having to be concerned with food and calories and the way they look. EVERYTHING and everyone have become so consumed with it that sometimes its just so hard to avoid it. I think its great that you are going to make it a point to not talk about thsoe things with your kids. Porn < Skinny talk!!!

  14. Thanks for being so honest. I have seen so many bloggers post about their eating disorders and almost be offering (unqualified) advice. I cringe at how even this affects readers who may not yet be getting the help they need. I'm so glad that you've presented eating disorders in the way you did...it's not glamourous, there are things we can do to prevent it from occurring, and there are ways to get help.

    I have talked with many people about eating disorders (clients), and most of the time it is about bulimia or BED. There are so many things to say about the issue---but the influence of mother and media seems to be up at the top of the list of "reasons."

  15. that's one of the best books out there on a candid look at eating disorders, it's a wonderful look into one's suffering huh!

    i too am afraid at times to think about the possibility that my child/children could also become a statistic.

    I'm hoping and praying that society continues to focus on healthy bodies...altho im sure even the hyper focus on bodies in general still feeds into the issue. 10 years or more ago, children focused on play dates and going to summer fairs...now children are focused on growing up, networking, and feeling like they 'stand out' from their peers. it's a scary realization!

    xoxo <3

  16. As you already know, yes I have had a history with ED too. I cannot tell if I'm completely over it as it hasn't been that long since, and I've still got some weight to gain. But mentally, I feel sooooo much freer.

    My mother never was a weight-obsessed person, but she did talk about weight to me constantly in that she always wanted me to gain more weight, and always trying to make me eat more. Ironic that I developed anorexia...

    I've heard about the book "gaining" since it came out, and I know you've mentioned it to me before. I'll have to check it out more.

    Thanks for this post, Gina.

  17. Good post. I find it alarming how girls are becoming more body-conscious at younger ages mainly because of the media. But I do think that parents can make a difference in ensuring this behavior does not escalate into something worse.

    The 'reads' you suggested are pretty interesting also.

  18. The book sounds wonderful.

    I have never struggled with an eating disorder, but when I lost weight in high school (fairly healthfully), I did have an increasing amount of disordered thinking and eating. I would skip social events to go to the gym for 2+ hours a day. I would not go out with friends to eat because I feared losing the control over my calorie counts that day, etc. It really shied me away from ever wanting to "diet". It has also shaped the way I try to help others lose weight, too. It's such a slippery slope...

    Great post :)

  19. I am struggling with binge eating now...and I know this is ridiculous - but feel even WORSE - because to me others with "real" ED's like anorexia have so such self-control and restraint - and I'm completely the opposite.

    I've seen that book but haven't read it. Have you read Geneen Roth's books? She may not talk about the type of ED your talking about - but she has AMAZING insights.

  20. Eating disorders are common among teens. This is due to the fact that confidence and other important traits are being developed and given significance during these years. It can be treated anyway.