Food disorders a weighty subject

We
are living in a weight-obsessed world, constantly bombarded by images of
flawless, air-brushed celebrities, held up as the epitome of beauty.

Meanwhile,
research shows that millions of people – mostly women – mainly between the ages
of 12 and 25 suffer from the life-and-death battle of an eating disorder.

There
are two main types of eating disorders; anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia is a psycho-physiological disorder caused an abnormal fear of gaining
weight. Sufferers have a distorted self-image and are often unwilling to
eat. 

Bulimia
is characterised by episodes of binge-eating, followed by damaging forms of
weight control such as vomiting and excessive use of laxatives.

Side effects

Both
anorexia and bulimia are classed as serious clinical illnesses and can have
grave long-term side effects. Anorexia can cause the heart to weaken, leading
to serious heart conditions. The patient may also suffer from dehydration,
which causes an imbalance in blood salts. This can cause abnormal heart rate
and in extreme cases can prove fatal.

In
the case of bulimia, self-induced and sustained vomiting also has serious side
effects. Vomiting can cause damage to the heart and muscles, resulting in
stomach cramps, fatigue, weakness and trouble breathing. This can also cause
life-threatening heart conditions.

At
the University of Florida in Gainesville, an on-campus eating disorders
programme assists students in need of treatment. It offers individual counselling,
group therapy, psychiatric services, medical evaluation and nutrition
counselling. “For both bulimia and anorexia, approximately 90 percent of our
cases are female,” said Dr. Jason Grindstaff of the UF Counselling and Wellness
Centre. “We also have new students entering counselling each year.”

Dr.
Grindstaff said he has found that most eating disorders develop during mid- to
late adolescence, and that there may be a genetic link to the eating disorders.

“There
is an increased incidence rate among first-generation biological relatives.
Therefore, if you mother or father had an eating disorder, you are at
in-creased risk,” he said.

When
Dr. Grindstaff learned there is no long-term mental health facility in Grand
Cayman, he stressed that “eating disorders are [the] deadliest of all mental
illnesses and require treatment in all cases.”

Deadly disorders

One
reason why these disorders are deadly is that those affected have a distorted
self image and therefore do not think they have a problem.

Meanwhile,
the media has had a huge effect on people, as awareness is raised through
celebrity cases like those of Mary-Kate Olsen and Nicole Richie, among other famous
victims of these disorders. The 1983 death of popular singer Karen Carpenter
from heart failure related to anorexia nervosa was the first to draw major
media attention to the disorder.

As
to whether anorexia and bulimia are issues in Cayman, one counsellor
acknowledges that it is.

“I
have had several clients who struggled with an unhealthy relationship with
food, manifesting in both anorexic and bingeing symptoms,” said Taylor Burrows,
a licensed mental health counsellor. “The severity ranged from severe past
hospitalisation to moderate lifestyle disturbances.”

Since
there currently are no specialised treatment centres locally, she said, it can
be difficult for patients with advanced mental health disorders to seek medical
help and counselling.

“The
island lacks specialised treatment facilities pertaining to mental health
concerns across the board.” Ms Burrows said.

Treatment options

Local
patients in need of long-term treatment face the expensive route of overseas
treatment. Typically, the average cost for a month of inpatient treatment in
America is around $30,000. It is also estimated that individuals with eating
disorders need anywhere from three to six months of care.

Locally,
Ms Burrows said, there needs to be priority given to a mental health facility
“because without proper treatment, we are putting all our energies into
prevention. Although prevention is key, we must also focus on healing the pain
and dysfunction that already exists.”

The
government’s budget has allocated $1.8 million this year for the development of
a long-term mental health facility. However, this is about $100,000 less than
was put aside last year for a facility that government estimates will cost a
total of $4 million to build.

Binge
eating

Another
eating disorder, which seems to be more prevalent on the island, is binge
eating. Binge-eaters have a compulsion to eat unusually large amounts of food
whether they feel hungry or not.

“Eating
disorders are a common issue [locally],” said Ms Burrows. “However, I would
suggest that over-eating/binge eating is more common than anorexia in Cayman.”

Although
binge eating is not classified as a clinical disorder, there are still a number
of dangers related to the condition. Sufferers run an increased risk of
developing type-two diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure,
and kidney and digestive problems.

Again,
the media is cited in this condition. Ms Burrows suggested that in other
countries there has been a correlation between media images and an increase in
anorexia.

“Perhaps
this is why anorexia may not be as prevalent as binge eating or overeating in
Cayman, as the media’s influence here is not as paramount,” she said.

Signs to watch out for

Change in eating habits

Poor body image

Compulsive exercise behaviours

Distorted thoughts concerning food

Emotional and psychological dysfunction:
low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, loneliness, mood swings, numbness,
despair, emptiness, hopelessness

Self-injury

Social
withdrawal.

FEATfoodSTORY

Eating orders many affect the lives of many women.
Photo: File