Category: Bulimia Nervosa

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Friends of Teens with Eating Disorders Unsure Where to Turn

00Adolescence, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Friends, Health, Social Life January, 17

Source: Darren Tunnicliff on Flickr, Creative Commons

During my last year of high school, I tried to help one of my closest friends, Rebecca (name changed), through an eating disorder.  I found myself in the difficult position of guarding her secret, yet somehow trying to get her through a mental illness.

So I was eager to see director Sanna Lenken’s, My Skinny Sister at the 2015 Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto, a film that captures the pain of a family coping with one member’s eating disorder.

The story is narrated by a young girl, Stella, who discovers that her older sister and role model, Katja, is suffering from anorexia nervosa. Through their complicated relationship, the viewer feels the struggle of wanting to protect a friend or family member from harm, while respecting the right to come forward only when ready.

Stella’s confusion and anxiety resonated with me. Like her, I felt I had to keep my friend Rebecca’s eating disorder a secret, scared of repercussions should anyone find out.

Rebecca’s condition escalated during senior year. She began over-exercising and restricting her caloric intake. At first, the disorder was hardly noticeable. But over time her weight dropped, her face appeared gaunt, her bones protruded.

At seventeen, I felt ill-equipped to handle this. Like Stella, I wanted Rebecca to seek help, but I didn’t know how to arrange it without betraying her trust.

Trying to aid a family member or friend with an eating disorder is very hard. Without resources at school, with no one to turn to, I didn’t know how to begin the conversation. As I struggled to support Rebecca, it became obvious I had no tools to help. One week of anti-stigma instruction that focused on body image and speaking inclusively wasn’t nearly enough.

Many adolescents are vulnerable to personal and friendship crises like these. And some websites help educate teenagers, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) site or the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) site.

But mental health education in high school? Not so much.

That’s unfortunate. Research shows the benefits of educating teachers on mental illness. In a 2014 study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Yifeng Wei and Stan Kutcher at Dalhousie University found that training teachers through a mental health program led to significant development in their ability to identify individuals with mental illness. And their attitudes toward mental disorders improved as well. Teachers were better able to support students, and link them to services.

The Youth Action Committee of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in 2012, designed a project to identify where schools were deficient in educating mental health issues. The study found a lack of training and education for students, with 39.5% of participants saying they only learned about mental health in one class. There was also a lack of access to resources, such as a designated safe space for students who wanted to discuss these issues in school.

In the end, there wasn’t much I could do to help my friend. Over time, Rebecca sought treatment independently—she got the help she needed.

But not everyone struggling with an eating disorder will seek help on their own. Better education and resources for people coping with mental illness, as well as for those who want to help, would go a long way in providing support.

–Alyssa Carvajal, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Anorexia Affects More Men Than Previously Thought

10Bulimia Nervosa, Consumer Behavior, Diet, Eating Disorders, Featured news, Gender, Health, Psychiatry March, 15

Source: Federico Morando//Flickr

Zachary Haines was 16 years old when a physical examination put his 5’7”, 230-pound body within the obese range.  Soon after, Zachary began working out and watching his diet, entering his junior year at high school 45 pounds lighter.

But what started as a healthy lifestyle soon spiralled into a struggle with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by severely restricting food intake.  Like many other men and boys, Zachary’s extreme weight loss was not identified as an illness.  In fact, it was ignored until he was hospitalized for malnutrition.  Despite having many of the telltale signs of anorexia, Zachary’s condition went untreated.

Anorexia and bulimia are traditionally seen as “female problems.”  But, recent studies show that approximately one third of people with anorexia and about one half of those with bulimia are men.

One of the  influences thought to impact these men are the shifting ideals in the media that are putting pressure on men to become thinner.

While there may not be a direct causal relationship between media portrayals of the ‘ideal’ man and the development of eating disorders, these depictions contribute to a cultural context that glorifies their apparent normalcy.   They may also influence males’ fears of becoming overweight, as male models face pressure to slim down and appear androgynous.

The thin ideal male image is also making its way into fashion.

In 1967, an average mannequin’s dimensions were a 42-inch chest and a 33-inch waist.  Today’s average dimensions are a 35-inch chest and a 27-inch waist.  With the average American man’s waist size being 39.7 inches, these changes represent a remarkably unrealistic objective.

For Zachary, fitting into smaller sized clothing after weight loss was a source of pride.

But during treatment this once enjoyable activity became emotionally painful:  In Zachary’s words, “The most anxiety-inducing part for me is trying on clothes.  If I go up a size, I think I’m going to be 230 pounds again.”

The signs that something was wrong were all there.

Despite working out for three hours per day while only consuming 1,400 calories, Zachary was continuously trying to lose more weight.  By relying on inaccurate results from the Body Mass Index (BMI), doctors missed his emaciation.  He had never fallen into the anorexic range because the BMI does not take into account the proportion of muscle to fat, even though his emaciation would have been evident if he were seen shirtless.

The growing number of stories like Zach’s has led to significant changes to how anorexia nervosa is diagnosed.

In the DSM-V (the most recent version of American psychiatry’s diagnostic manual), this change involved eliminating Criterion D, or amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) to make the diagnosis gender-neutral.

Zachary recovered because he had support from his family and friends, private insurance, and access to physicians and psychiatrists, who he worked with closely.

To help his recovery, he had to change his wish to pursue becoming an athletic trainer to that of going into advertising.

Those without resources can also identify some of the signs of an eating disorder:  extreme exercise behaviors, compulsive thoughts of losing weight, constantly feeling cold, and extreme food restriction.

These signs don’t discriminate between men and women, neither should we.

– Contributing Writer: Danielle Tremblay, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Federico Morando//Flickr

This article was originally published on Psychology Today