OC Register: The Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder
This article was reprinted from the Orange County Register's Coverage of The Victorian's Monumental Eating Disorders: From Awareness to Action Event.
The conference held in Costa Mesa recently was called “Eating Disorders: America’s Silent Danger.” That may have been a stretch — most people know a person who’s had one, or at least knows about it — but experts who attended the confab said misconceptions still abound.
“It’s not a sorority girl’s problem, for God’s sake!” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former White House drug czar who’s now a ubiquitous presence on TV about all manner of national-security and public-health problems. “It’s a giant disaster.”
The most eloquent speaker at the event was 2008 Miss America Kirsten Haglund (pictured to the right), who struggled with an eating disorder from the ages of 12-15 before she got help. Read more about her story in today’s Register.
Counselors and other health providers at the conference said that eating disorders affect 10 million women in America and 1 million men. They’re often hard to diagnose because 70 percent of sufferers have some other kind of “co-disorder,” like depression or substance abuse. “You may never know which came first,” said Barry Karlin, CEO of CRC Health Group, the behavioral-health provider based in Cupertino.
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa (a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight); bulimia nervosa (bingeing and purging); and binge-eating disorder. Estimates for the number of people with eating disorders may be unreliable because of those narrow definitions, according to a new study.
But here are some warning signs — from Karlin and Web sites like WebMD and the National Eating Disorders Association — for parents and others who suspect a loved one might have an eating disorder.
Symptoms of Anorexia
- Refusal to eat, or a fear of gaining weight
- Obsession about weight or appearance
- Thin, gaunt appearance; lack of energy
- Withdrawing from social circles
- Nibbling at food instead of enjoying a meal
- Soft hair growing on the body
- Loss of menstruation
Symptoms of Bulimia
- Too-frequent trips to the bathroom
- Damaged teeth or gums (from acid in the stomach)
- Excessive exercising
- Eating more than is normal during a sitting
- Frequently eating alone
- Feelings of disgust about the amount eaten
“We have to actively remove the shame that‘s behind this kind of disease,” said Kathy Sylvia, executive director of Sober Living by the Sea, whose eating-disorder program, the Victorian, hosted the conference. “Some people might say, ‘Just eat!’ A person is trying to protect themselves — from pain, from neediness. It’s not as easy as just saying no and just eating.”