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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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Amsterdam Sugar Rehab Sweet on Recovery

Amsterdam Sugar Rehab Sweet on Recovery

Author: Justin Mckibben

Plenty of attention has been paid to the true dependence most Americans have on sugar. In recent years there have been documentaries and activists making bold statements about how so much of the food we consume in this country is saturated with sugar. Many of us have no clue just how much sugar we actually consume. Others actively try to eliminate it from their diets. So what then does sugar addiction mean?

There is really a wealth of research supporting the idea that certain foods, especially those that are high in levels of fat or sugar, can have a powerful addictive effect on people. Some would write this off as disordered eating or just a bad habit, but others believe it is truly an addiction. Apparently the U.S. isn’t the only country who thinks this might be a thing.

The Dutch are right there with us. A new temporary sugar “rehab clinic” has now opened in Amsterdam. Well… sort of.

Dutch Sugar Rehab

The “rehab facility” opened on Monday, but it isn’t really much of a rehab. It is more like an information center about sugar, according to the NL Times. Dutch Diabetic Foundation is the source behind the sugar rehab. The primary purpose of the so-called sugar rehab itself serves to educate visitors on hidden and added sugars in the foods they eat. So many people do not realize the added sugar in some of the most unexpected products. The sugar rehab also works to help visitors explore healthier alternatives to keep life sweet without sugar.

According to the Dutch Diabetic Foundation, about 80% of Dutch people consume too much sugar. The group plans to keep their sugar rehab on Leidsestraat in Amsterdam open until November 13.

Researching Sugar Addiction

Sugar is notoriously difficult to resist. A lot of that is due to sugar making us crave more instead of satisfying the hunger. Another reason, again, is because there as so many foods people aren’t even aware contain sugar.

A research neuroscientist named Nicole Avena, PhD, of the New York Obesity Research Center was quoted in 2014 describing how when we eat too much sugar, we can cause the release of chemicals associated with pleasure and reward. If this is a habitual behavior, it eventually develops into an addiction. The body craves the release of these pleasure chemicals, and it seeks out the familiar sugary source.

In a recent interview with The Fix  Lou Lebentz, an expert on sugar and addiction, explained the toxic effect that sugar can have on the liver. Given the nature of alcohol abuse and it’s impact on the liver, this risk is especially relevant for recovering alcoholics. Lebentz stated:

“If you’re an alcoholic and already have an overworked liver trying to process alcohol, the last thing you want to do is to put a further strain on the liver trying to process sugar,”

She added that despite sugar being pumped into everything we eat, it actually has no health benefits and is toxic to the body.

A Sweeter Recovery

For many recovering addicts, sugar is a comforting substitute for whatever substance they put down. In one 12 Step fellowship their literature (written in 1934) even suggests that alcoholics keep chocolate nearby. Coffee is part of the recovery culture, and now energy drinks are a big part of the problem.

Sugar can fill the void of drugs or alcohol without as much guilt, perhaps, but according to recovered food addict Mary Foushi, co-founder of ACORN Food Dependency Recovery Services, the consequences of sugar addiction are not as safe as easily overcome as them seem. Foushi said,

“People we work with say that putting down the alcohol is nothing compared to putting down the food, and the dangers of sugar addiction can be just as bad if not far worse: obesity, diabetes, some forms of cancer, high blood pressure, degeneration of bones and joints,”

In truth, quitting booze means radically decreasing one’s intake of carbs and sugar. So it is natural that even subconsciously the body seeks out new outlets to get its sugar fix. But sugar is deadly. Considering extreme and rapid weight gain, obesity and countless other health risks sugar can pose, people are dying from it.

While the concept of a sugar rehab may seem abstract to some, to others it is a very real threat. Nutrition and healthier habits overall are a vital component to comprehensive recovery.

For anyone who is seeking recovery, it is important to try and recover holistically. Treating the mind, the body and the spirit all at once can help to empower anyone who may need help escaping their addiction. Being aware of the importance and dangers of your diet is just another important part of restoring your life. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

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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.

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.

Picky Eating Linked to Depression and Anxiety

Picky Eating Linked to Depression and Anxiety

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

Author: Shernide Delva

My parents lucked out with me. I was never a picky eater. I ate everything they gave me and I rarely complained. Honestly, I just loved to eat (and still do!).

Looking back though, I don’t know whether my easy eating tendencies affected my emotional upbringing or not. My middle sister was a super picky eater and I definitely ended up with more emotional and anxiety issues than she did.

That’s why this new study is so surprising to me.

Most families treat picky eating as a phase but a recent study from Duke Medicine shows that moderate and severe picky eating is correlated to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

It has been estimated that 20 percent of children between the ages of 2 to 6 are selective eaters and of those, 18 percent are classified as moderately picky. Some children—about 3 percent, are so severely selective that it limits their ability to eat with others.  The study explains that picky eating can result in poor nutrition, family conflict and frustrated parents.

Children with both moderate to severe picky eating habits were found to be nearly twice as likely to have increased symptoms of generalized anxiety at follow up intervals during the study, which screen 3,433 children. Nancy Zucker, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science elaborates on the condition:

“These are children whose eating has become so limited or selective that it’s starting to cause problems. Impairment can take many different forms. It can affect the child’s health, growth, social functioning, and the parent-child relationship. The child can feel like no one believes them, and parents can feel blamed for the problem.”

The study found that both moderate and severe selective eating were associated with significantly elevated symptoms of depression, social anxiety and generalized anxiety. Children with severe selective eating were found to be twice as likely to have a diagnosis of depression.

A new diagnosis called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) is used to describe moderate to severe selective eating children.  Children with this disorder suffer from

  • Anxiety
  • Malnourishment
  • Increase Tension in the Home
  • Failure to Gain Weight
  • Fear of Eating
  • Failure to Digest Food Propery
  • Avoidance of certain Textures/Colors of Food
  • Dependency on nutritional supplements and vitamins
  • Decline in Psychological Functioning

The study suggested parents who struggle with their children regularly over food find tools to address the problem.  Children who refuse to eat may be dismayed by smells, textures, and tastes of certain foods.

Through this negative experience, they develop fear and anxiety to try new foods.  If not addressed, this condition can sometimes worsen in adulthood.  It is nowhere near guaranteed but it is a definitely possibility.

“There’s no question that not all children go on to have chronic selective eating in adulthood,” Zucker said. “But because these children are seeing impairment in their health and well-being now, we need to start developing ways to help these parents and doctors know when and how to intervene.”

Therapy can help to demystify foods that cause anxiety in children. However, this may not be helpful for children sensitive to certain smells, flavors and textures. The findings suggest researchers to find other ways to address children with these specific issues.
Parents who have very picky eaters in their family can feel some peace in knowing that they are not the only ones to blame.  There obvious is more to picky eating than just disliking vegetables.

Picky eating can be a sign of mental health issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible. If you think you or your child is displaying signs of AFRID, find a profession who can help you come up with safe effective solutions. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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