By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
“I spent so much time eating or thinking about eating that I couldn’t keep the rest of my life together. When I think about all the money I’ve spent on binges and diets and therapy over the years, I’m stunned now that I’m not in denial any more,” said Jessica Morgan, having a morning coffee and whole wheat scone at a Portland, Oregon bakery before heading off to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. “It’s been thousands and thousands of dollars, and if you include the cost of my dental work from all the sugar the figure is so staggering I’ve never had the heart to add it up. My last binge cost $22 alone. I could have toured Europe many times over – stayed at the best places – had the finest wines. But treating yourself that nice hardly went along with my addiction and the way I felt about myself all those dark, dark years.”
| Health consequences of anorexia: |
Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure
Reduced bone density
Muscle loss and weakness
Fainting, fatigue and weakness
Dry hair and skin
Eating disorder is an umbrella term for a number of eating problems including compulsive eating, purging or bulimia, and starving or anorexia. At the root of these problems is preoccupation with food. Those who suffer spend many of their waking hours alternating between vowing and planning to eat appropriate amounts of food for their body size and then swinging over to binging, purging or starving. While increasing numbers of men are joining the ranks of women with eating disorders, the problem has historically and still is largely one common to the female gender.
Until the 1960s both bulimia and anorexia were considered rare, although purging and food refusal have long histories dating back to Greece and Rome, 13th century Europe, and the Victorian era in England. Within the United States, the prevalence or bulimia and anorexia has been difficult to determine because of the secrecy associated with the behaviors.
Still, estimates peg the current incidence of bulimia at 2 to 13 percent and even higher with as many as 1 in 5 college-aged woman either vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising to extremes to control their weight after binge eating. Similarly, between 5 and 10 percent of the female college-age population have symptoms of anorexia and regularly refuse food to the point of starving themselves.
Experts link these conditions to the dramatic rise of dieting as reflected in the $33 billion weight-reduction industry. Americans’ fixation on dieting is fueled by cultural norms that celebrate slim, youthful appearances, particularly in women.
Many feminists have argued that the rise of compulsive eating disorders have appeared at a time in history beginning in the late 1960s when women began seeking economic, legal and sexual power. They speculate that one form of the patriarchal backlash to the women’s movement has been to define the ideal female size as childlike and thin. These scholars tend to agree that ultimately the prevention of eating problems depends on dealing with the whole can of worms – with women’s access to economic, cultural, racial, political, social and sexual justice.
According to the Reader’s Companion to U.S. women’s history, “Compulsive eating is also sometimes called binge eating disorder and is often associated with overweight or obesity. Binge eating involves rapid consumption of food with a sense of loss of control, uncomfortable fullness after eating, and eating large amounts of food when not hungry. Feelings of shame and embarrassment are prominent in compulsive eaters.”
| Health consequences of bulimia: |
Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possible heart failure
Potential for gastric rupture during bingeing
Inflammation and possible rupture of esophagus
Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids
Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation
Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis
Authors of the reader’s companion further state that “increasing evidence shows that long-term dieting may be implicated in the onset of bulimia and anorexia. Approximately 90 percent of people who go on diets gain back the lost weight. Further, long term food restriction may slow the metabolism, making it more rather than less difficult to lose weight or maintain weight loss. Cycles of weight loss and weight gain can make people especially vulnerable to taking more drastic steps to lose weight, including purging and fasting for extended periods, take appetite suppressants, and/or exercising compulsively. For this reason, health professionals now understand that the prevention of eating problems includes educating people about the possible dangers of long-term dieting.”
People with bulimia nervosa regularly compensate for binge eating with self-induced vomiting or through the use of laxatives, diuretics or enemas. Not all bulimics purge, however, with some using excessive exercising or fasting to control weight after bouts of binge eating.
“I used to eat a half gallon of ice cream,” said Rod Baker who now works in a South Carolina university treatment program for eating disorders. “Then I’d lace up my running shoes and hit the streets for hours. It was crazy, but I did it over and over again for years. Way more than that twice weekly and three month-marker that’s often used to define a true bulimic.”
Baker says that he has not practiced bulimia for five years, but that he knows he’s not really cured. “Once you’ve discovered how well stuffing yourself works to numb out feelings you’d rather not deal with, you’re never the same again – or maybe I should say sane. Anyway, that’s what I tell my people – that nothing works as good as food. That means if you want to truly free yourself from the cycle, you have to be willing to tolerate some discomfort. The good news, is that it is possible.”
Anorexia nervosa is the other side of the coin from bulimia. Again though, people with the disorder maintain a low body weight by either restricting food intake or exercising to extreme. Anorexia is also associated with substance use disorders and emotional states in which moods can swing abruptly from one extreme to the other.
“Mood swings might be common to the anorexic, but I’ve sure had my share as a compulsive eater who eventually even got into bulimia. Any way you slice it, I think there’s bound to be loads of depression associated with eating disorders because they’re not like alcohol or drugs or other addictions,” said Jessica Morgan. “When you overeat, you feel so disgusting. How could anyone who does that feel any other way than depressed and hopeless. That’s why I’m so grateful I found Overeater’s Anonymous. I’ve been free from food drugging for two years now, and I owe it all to the 12-step program of recovery.”
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