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What Causes an Eating Disorder and How Do You Treat It?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Over the weekend, I watched the movie To the Bone starring Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins. The film took us inside the life of Ellen, a 20-year-old woman who has consistently struggled with an eating disorder.  She enters a residential treatment program with several other women struggling with eating disorders.

The film received a plethora of controversy as many thought it was triggering.  However, after watching the movie, I felt it did an excellent job of allowing the viewer to understand the urgent and severe nature of an eating disorder. Often, films only focus on how little the patient is eating or how much weight they have lost. Yet, this is only a small component of having an eating disorder. Eating disorders go much deeper psychologically, and weight is simply part of the problem.

While the movie does an excellent job explaining what it is like to have an eating disorder, it does not explain what causes eating disorders in the first place. Eating disorders are complex with a broad range of variables.

Treatments for eating disorders vary in efficacy. There is no one size fit all treatment. This is elaborated in the movie as we watch Ellen transfer from one treatment center to another. Finally, she ends up at a treatment center she connects to and has a great therapist played by Keanu Reeves.

Often patients deny the severity of their condition at first. The lack of seriousness only progresses the disorder further. For example, in To the Bone, the women struggle to understand why their eating behaviors are considered abnormal. In fact, they believe that their compulsive eating behaviors are necessary to their survival. The idea of eating any other way is difficult to grasp.

Furthermore, patients lie about the severity of their condition which hampers their treatment options.

Most clinicians agree eating disorders stem from a variety of factors:

These factors range from:

Biological Contributors:

It is possible there is a genetic link that causes eating disorder. Significant studies on depression and anxiety allow reason to be hopeful.  Many people had anxiety and depression prior to the development of their eating disorder. Eating disorders can be a reaction to mental illnesses, in an attempt to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Anxiety can be controlled through food restriction and purging. Symptoms of an eating disorder can elevate the mood as sufferers rely on their weight to fit in with society. Since depression and anxiety have a genetic component, there could also be a clear genetic connection to eating disorders.

Neurobiological Contributors:

Neurobiology is a branch of biology concerned with anatomy and physiology of the nervous system. When it comes to eating disorder, individual ones like anorexia nervosa over activate the inhibition control networks and under activate the reward systems. When looking at bulimia nervosa, there seems to be a dysregulation of both the inhibition control networks and reward pathways. These abnormalities are common among eating disorder patients. However, it is uncertain whether these abnormalities are the result of eating disorder behaviors, or if these abnormalities were present prior to the development of an eating disorder.

The Psychology of Eating Disorders

Needless to say, there is a strong psychological component to eating disorders. Most of what we read regarding eating disorders discusses the psychological component. Psychological elements of an eating disorder range from familial, relational, cultural and social. Most researchers agree that eating disorders and psychological disorders are co-occurring.

Some treatment processes focus on behavior and cognitive changes. These treatments include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT,) Family Based Treatment (FBT,) and others.  However, there is more research needed on how to treat the behaviors rather than solely focusing on the cause. In addition, families need to understand the root of eating disorders in order to understand how to best respond to them.

Overall, the reality is there is so much to be learned when it comes to eating disorders. Eating disorders are a result of a variety of factors. Furthermore, just like addiction, eating disorders are not a choice. People with eating disorders need treatment. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, mental illness or addiction, please call now. You do not have to do this alone. 

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Court Orders La Scala to Rehire Dancer Who Spoke of Anorexia

Court Orders La Scala to Rehire Dancer Who Spoke of Anorexia

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

A case that made headlines for many years has finally come to a close. In 2012, Mariafrancesca Garritano, a ballet dancer, was sacked after accusing the La Scala ballet company of promoting eating disorders to young dancers. She even claimed that one in five ballerinas had anorexia, and admitted to her struggles with meeting their standards.

Garritano said 70% of dancers who were at La Scala’s dance school had eaten so little that their periods had stopped, a common anorexia side effect known as amenorrhea. She said she suffered recurring stomach pains and frequent bone fractures due to her extreme dieting. All of this was published in a tell-all booked which clearly enraged the company she was hired to work for.

After coming out with these claims, the ballerina was suspiciously fired from dancing for the La Scala company. The firing led to the court case stating that the dancer was fired illegally.  The case also spotlighted the intense pressure ballerinas have to stay thin in the industry.

Now 37, Garritano is ready to return to the stage. The school has been ordered to rehire the dancer after it was determined that the ballerina was fired unfairly.

“All I am waiting for is a call from La Scala,” Garritano said in an interview with Milan daily Il Giorno.

Garritano acknowledges that she has yet to receive contact from the company since the court victory. The case was first settled in 2014. However, La Scala appealed the decision. Now, the same court order remains. The school must rehire Garritano.

“Already in 2014, I expected to be rehired after two years of interruption. Now I expect the same thing,” said Garritano. “I never stopped working on my physical condition to be in the best condition possible when the moment came.”

The dancer was dismissed initially due to bringing the name of the company down by writing about it in her book.  In the book, she described her experience as a dancer, under the pressure and scrutiny of the public eye. In one incident, she mentions the instructors calling her names like “mozzarella” and “Chinese dumpling” in front of everyone.  At one point, Garritano’s weight dropped to 94 pounds due to her extreme dieting methods.

For decades, eating disorders and ballerina practically went hand in hand. Ballerinas are told they must look svelte and graceful on stage. However, this demand results in eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which one restricts their calories severely to the point of starvation. Bulimia is repeated binge eating and self-induced vomiting. Other eating disorders include orthorexia which is an obsessive focus on healthy eating.

Eating disorders are much more prevalent in a woman. This is because in industries like modeling, acting, dancing or singing, place a huge emphasis on having what is perceived to be a perfect body type.  Many models have also come out with stories about agents demanding they lose 10 to 20 pounds on an already thin figure to fit “exact” model measurements.

Garritano was merely exposing the struggles she faced working as a ballerina for the La Scala ballerina company. It would not be legal to fire her over publishing her book, unless it was determined that she was not telling the truth. In this case, it seems that the ruling seems just. What do you think? Should they have fired her?

Eating disorders are devastating illnesses to have to deal with alone. Often, in industries focused on looks, many find it hard to admit they have a problem. If this sounds like you, get help today. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Why College Students Are Smashing Their Scales

Why College Students Are Smashing Their Scales

Author: Justin Mckibben

For some people, bathroom scales represent a lot more than just tools for measurement… a scale can actually become a symbol of self-sabotage and emotional atrophy due to a traumatic experience or the gradual development of unhealthy self-image. Looking a little closer, the statistics can say it all. According to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD):

  • Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • 25% of college-aged women admitted to binging and purging as a weight-management technique.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder.
  • Only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment.

For many who suffer from eating disorders, the scale is more of a shackle that keeps them hitched to the destructive habits and head space that embody their eating disorder. Now one woman has inspired a movement to break the grip of this triggering mechanism by shattering the scale.

McCall Dempsey struggled with an eating disorder for 15 years, and today she has taken to spreading eating disorder awareness through a body positivity campaign she started on campus at several southern universities.

The Southern Smash

McCall’s movement is cleverly called the Southern Smash and the idea is for people to literally “smash” the body pressure away by taking a baseball bat and smashing their scales. The Southern Smash campaign’s latest event, which took place at the University of Virginia’s South Lawn on Tuesday, was just one of many gatherings for people trying to raise awareness about the impact of eating disorders by attacking one element of the negative body-image. Talking with the university’s student-run newspaper about the event Dempsey stated,

“I think everyone no matter what age lives in a world where we feel so pressured to look a certain way, be a certain way, dress a certain way, and this lets us smash all of those standards,”

“It’s a silent epidemic that is plaguing our country, and there is not enough discussion about them. There is so much shame and secrecy around them, so we smash scales to catch people’s attention about doing something fun and then really opening the conversation and educating students.”

Tuesday’s event was hosted by the UVA Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns and Durham-based treatment center Carolina House. It gave students the opportunity to smash scales of their own, and the disheartening association attached to it.

Destroying scales wasn’t the only way to participate in the event. Students also wrote their perfect numbers on balloons, referring to:

  • Grades
  • Calories
  • Weight

The students then let the balloons go. They also wrote a “scale tombstone.”

Fighting Stigma on Campus

College campuses all across the country can present a competitive and intimidating environment. Stress from studies and peer pressures can weigh down on students and according to Melanie Brede, chair of UVA Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns, many students who experience a hardship, including mental health disorders and addictions, don’t feel comfortable sharing their struggle with their peers.

“The reality is lots of people are struggling and being able to talk about it and have it be a common part of conversation makes it an opportunity for us all to be stronger together instead of struggling silently alone,”

The smashing of scales is just a catalyst, as the event was about a lot more than just getting together to break stuff in public. After the scales were effectively destroyed a panel discussion on eating disorders took place on campus where the discussion touched various topics concerning eating disorders and the importance of asking for help if someone is suffering a lone. A big part of the conversation was aimed to assure students that this doesn’t have to be a lonely fight, as was the point of inviting people impacted by the issue to shatter scales on campus in an act of solidarity against the stigma.

One college junior named Kendall Siewert shared her thoughts on the isolation an eating disorder can create, and how coming together as a community means a lot for the fight. Siewert stated,

“It is important for young women to understand their worth is not in their weight. It is never too late to ask for help. It’s never too late to find people and surround yourself with acceptance and work on that every day.”

By bringing students together to participate in a fun and entertaining activity, they hoped it would encourage a crowd that could ultimately extend the dialogue of addressing eating disorders, and showing how many others experience eating disorders. Other Southern Smash events are planned for this year at a number of colleges and universities to smash some scales in a few other states including:

  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Illinois

The Southern Smash campaign’s 2016 schedule can be viewed on its website, so there are plenty of chances for people in these areas to get involved.

Eating disorders are not always as easy to spot as an alcohol dependence issue, but they are both discrete and lethal illnesses, and they both effect more people than most would expect. Raising awareness about eating disorders can help destroy the stigma associated with them and lead to more people seeking the help they desperately need. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or alcoholism, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Spread Awareness: This Week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Spread Awareness: This Week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

“Her body
Layers upon layers of flesh
Her body
Lacking nourishment
Craving Rest

Her Body
As vast as an ocean
Her Mind
Too shallow to appreciate the depth”

Eating Disorders Awareness Week: February 21-27 2016

Above is an excerpt from a poem I wrote called “Her Body.” The poem really delves deep into the seriousness of eating disorders. Personally, I believe it is critical for people to understand and learn about the complexity of eating disorders. Eating disorders can cause great harm if left untreated.

That being said, in case you missed it, this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week. Throughout the week, NEDA and its supporters aim to bring awareness about the seriousness of eating disorders and increase access to treatment for those in need. Struggling with an eating disorder can be very daunting, and often those who have them are not even aware of the problem. Eating Disorders Awareness Week’s goal is to spread the message to both those who suffer and the loved ones around them.

This year’s theme for NEDA week is “3 Minutes can Save a Life: Get Screened. Get Help. Get Healthy.” The website offers a 3 minute survey that can help determine if you may have symptoms of an eating disorder. While the results are NOT an official diagnosis, it can help determine if you should seek professional help.

Eating disorders involve dark destructive behaviors in the effort to attain an ideal body image or seek control over one’s life. Eating disorders can cause depression and obsessive compulsive behavior. If left unaddressed, eating disorders can be incredibly damaging both psychologically and physically.

Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders

From personal experience, I know how destructive eating disorders can be.  Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

Here are just a few disturbing statistics regarding eating disorders:

General Eating Disorder Stats

  • Nearly 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.
  • Only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment.
  • Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • 25% of college-aged women admitted to bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder.

As you can see, these statistics are startling. With the influences of the media, the desire to be a certain size and look a certain way is continuing to affect people in a negative way.

Before we delve any further, let’s quickly define some of the more commonly known eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Severely limiting calories, leading to low body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight, obsession with the scale

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Eating large quantities of food, followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain such as throwing up, using laxatives of excessive exercise
  • Feeling out of control and desperate because of unrealistic body image goals

Binge Eating Disorder            

  • Eating large amounts of food, yet not engaging in behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Strong shame or guilt regarding binge eating
  • Eating to the point of discomfort and eating when not hungry
  • Eating alone because of shame

Other Types of Eating Disorders

  • Orthorexia– extreme or excessive preoccupation with eating food believed to be healthy.
  • Purging disorder- purging without binge eating
  • Night eating syndrome- excessive nighttime food consumption

There are multitudes of eating disorders out there, some less commonly known, however the one thing they all have in common is that they interfere with a person’s well-being and relationship with food.  Fortunately, the media has taken steps to prevent the onset of eating disorders. Fashion models even have guidelines they must follow to maintain a healthy body weight.

Still, having an eating disorder can be very depressing for many and lead to self-harm. This week, take time out of your day to examine your eating patterns and self-worth. Do you struggle with disordered eating behaviors? Perhaps it’s time for you, or someone you know,  to get on the right path to self-love.

It is so important for people to learn and understand eating disorders so they are able to help someone who is struggling. It is even more important to know when you are struggling with something yourself and need to get help. Do not be afraid to admit that you have a problem. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

The Genetic Link between Eating Disorders and Alcoholism

The Genetic Link between Eating Disorders and Alcoholism

Author: Justin Mckibben

It takes a perfect storm of nature and nurture to become an addict or alcoholic of the “real deal” description. It is both the genetic predisposition of each and every individual in combination with their upbringing and exposure that contributes to the development of a serious dependence on drugs or alcohol, and it is said the same is true for eating disorders.

Now, work by a group of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests there could be a link between the genetics behind both alcoholism and eating disorders. So what could this mean for diagnosis and treatment?

Including the Silent Epidemic

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published in September included a report by researchers stating that people with alcohol dependence may be more genetically susceptible to certain types of eating disorders, and vice versa, due to the genetic similarities.

Another part of this study that stood out was the inclusion of men in the surveying of genetic links. Melissa A. Munn-Chernoff, PhD, the study’s first author said,

“In clinical practice, it’s been observed that individuals with eating disorders also have high rates of alcohol abuse and dependence. Other studies have focused on the genetic connections between alcohol dependence and eating disorders, but all of those studies looked only at women. Ours was the first to include men as well.”

Munn-Chernoff is a postdoctoral research scholar in psychiatry who was heavily involved in the research, and according to Munn-Chernoff it is important to note men were factored into this study because eating disorders are too often considered a women’s issue, but in reality there is a large population of men suffering from eating disorders who are considered part of a silent epidemic.

Getting Down to Genetics

The data used for this study was collected from nearly 6,000 adult twins in Australia. The research team consistently found common genetic factors underlie alcoholism and certain eating-disorder symptoms, such as:

Several studies prior to this have also suggested certain particular behaviors we call compensatory behaviors such as binging and purging have been associated with alcohol dependence, which is why the team focused on these behaviors.

Identical twins share 100% of their genetic makeup, so by studying twins the researchers used statistics to determine the odds certain traits result from the same genes. Fraternal twins share about half their genetic makeup. So Munn-Chernoff explained that by comparing the findings in identical and fraternal twins the team could develop estimates of how much of the difference in particular traits is due to genes or environment.

According to Munn-Chernoff they determined some of the genes that influence alcohol dependence also play a huge role binge eating in men and women.

Survey by Symptoms

Because the full-blown forms of the more commonly known disorders are relatively low, and they’re rare in populations of twins, researchers surveyed subjects about whether they suffered from eating-disorder symptoms instead of having a full diagnosis.  Also, symptoms can cut across multiple eating disorder diagnoses, so one eating disorder may share a lot of signs as another.

What the study found was:

  • Nearly 25% of the men had been alcohol dependent at some point
  • Almost 11% of these same men had experienced problems with binge eating
  • 6% of women had been alcohol dependent at some point
  • 13% of the women had experienced problems with binge eating
  • 14% of the women had engaged in purging or abuse of laxatives or diuretics

Note: Because the researchers were examining statistics assembled for a different previous study, only the female twins were asked about purging or using laxatives and diuretics.

On a statistical scale from 0 (no shared genes) to 1 (all genes shared), the researchers found:

  • The genetic correlation between binge eating and alcohol dependence was statistically significant at .26.
  • Among women in the study, the genetic correlation between compensatory behaviors and alcohol dependence was significant at .32.

The researchers concluded those numbers suggest shared genetic risk factors for these behaviors, such as purging and fasting, are very relevant to the conversation. Munn-Chernoff stated:

“It appears that some genes that influence alcohol dependence also influence binge eating in men and women, and compensatory behaviors in women.”

In the future, Munn-Chernoff would like to expand the scope of the study, including incorporating a variety of ethnic groups, and gathering blood or saliva samples in an attempt to identify the actual genes that contribute both to alcohol dependence and eating-disorder symptoms.

The big thing here in Munn-Chernoff’s opinion is that having a more defined vision for what the genetic links are, and knowing these two conditions have a high possibility of coexisting, the odds of an accurate dual diagnosis and more effective treatment options has the potential to save a lot of lives.

Eating disorders are not always as easy to spot as an alcohol dependence issue, but they are both discrete and lethal illnesses and with this kind of information specialists can start to pay closer attention. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or alcoholism, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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