Q. My daughter, age 17, is very preoccupied with her weight, hardly eats at all and is too thin. I tried to talk to her about this but she became offended and clammed up. I’m concerned she may have an eating disorder. What are the symptoms of eating disorders and how are they treated? A friend told me eating disorders are life threatening. Is this true?
A. Your friend is right, eating disorders are life threatening. Many young women (and some men) in their teens and early twenties struggle with an eating disorder. They don’t recognize that they have a serious problem which usually requires medical and psychiatric intervention.
Anorexia is a serious, life threatening eating disorder involving deliberate starvation. A person who is anorexic has an obsession with being thin and an unrealistic standard of what constitutes thinness. Those who do not get help have a high mortality rate.
Bulimia is also a life threatening eating disorder. It is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or purging by laxatives, enemas or diuretics. Persons with bulimia have a fear of being fat and use the above methods to lose weight. Bulimics usually have less severe weight loss than anorexics. The bulimic feels shame about their problem and so is secretive about it.
The physical consequences of anorexia can include: extreme weight loss, loss of menstrual periods, constipation, hair loss, dizziness, fainting, insomnia, kidney failure and severe electrolyte imbalances which can lead to heart attacks.
The physical consequences of bulimia include menstrual irregularities, swollen glands, frequent weight fluctuations, chronic dehydration, kidney problems and cardiac arrhythmia. Bulimics also can have gum recession, breakdown of tooth enamel and esophageal damage from excessive vomiting. Some young people suffer from both anorexia and bulimia, an especially dangerous condition.
The psychological symptoms of anorexia and bulimia both include feelings of inferiority, obsessive thoughts, fear of obesity, perfectionism and a distorted body image.
The media contributes to this extreme obsession with appearance and an unrealistic standard of what constitutes beauty. Recent research discovered that women who viewed advertisements of thin, beautiful women felt unhappy with their own appearance after only three minutes. Teens are especially influenced by these ads.
A former supermodel Carre Otis, who was pictured on the cover of fashion magazines and featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, acknowledged her problem with anorexia. On ABC’s Primetime, she described going on a liquid fast for two weeks before each photo shoot. Her doctors found she had three holes in her heart.
After heart surgery she began eating three meals a day instead of one. She told Primetime, “When I first started to eat food during the day it was the most terrifying thing for me. I would eat and then...cry for hours.” For 17 years she starved herself all day and ate only a little dinner.
Carre now weighs 30 pounds over her ideal model weight. But she is still beautiful and modeling offers pour in. Carre Otis is a size 12. The average American woman wears a size 14. Few women are meant to be as tiny as the women depicted in ads.
You must get help for your daughter. She should have both a medical evaluation and a psychological evaluation. She must be monitored medically while working on the underlying psychological causes of the problem. Reassure her that the medical and counseling help will be offered to her with understanding, not blame.
A renewal of faith can also help anorexics and bulimics. Faith in God can help them give up their need to control and their need to be perfect, learning to place their life in God’s hands.
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 NIV
This post appeared originally on Taber's Truths, Modern Christian Living.