Eating disorders affect wider spectrum

Peijia Zhang, Staff Writer

Emily Best from Buffalo, New York, remembers obsessively practicing workouts she saw on VHS tapes 26 years ago: “Jane Fonda’s Original Workout and Buns and Abs of Steel.”

In addition, she walked 5  miles at night and had trouble sleeping. She was 11.

“I was afflicted with anorexia since age 12,” Best says. According to National Eating Disorders Association’s website, Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss.

It was early ‘90s – not many girls her age knew about calories when she was strictly controlling her diet at about 13 years old.

At 14 years old, after some futile visits to a residential treatment center, her parents took her to a children’s hospital. She was 5.5 feet and her weight had shrunk from about 130 to 90 pounds.

Anorexia can be lethal if one loses too much weight, Pitt-Johnstown psychology assistant professor Laura Dietz. She is also a clinical psychologist.

After a year and a half of hospitalization, Best started binging and overdosing on laxatives.

She was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, another common eating disorder characterized by binging and compensatory behaviors, such as purging.

After a suicide attempt, she was treated at a psychiatric unit.

She says her mother’s relentless help for her to receive treatments saved her life, even though she is still struggling on and off with eating disorders at the age of 37.

“I always think about it (eating); it never stops.”

Best says eating disorders were a form of control when she copes with her life’s chaos, but years of therapy and having a good clinician have made her feel better.

Best seems to be a typical eating disorder patient – a female who was afraid of weight gain in her adolescence.

Dietz says the ratio of eating disorder patients for females and males is 10 to one.

“(One reason is) the media’s distorted image about what attractiveness is for a woman.”

The ratio for male has been on the rise in recent years as beauty standards for men has been higher than ever, Dietz says.

To achieve bodies like those in Men’s Health magazine photos, one needs  low body fat. Certain sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding or running may also introduce eating disorders, she says.

Also, not as many of her college-aged patients have eating disorders as adolescents, Dietz says.

She says anorexia can worsen when patients are in college, as they don’t have their parents monitoring their eating, so it’s easier for them not to eat enough calories.

Chelsea Kronengold, National Eating Disorders Association’s Senior Program Associate, says eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all psychiatric illnesses, and they can happen to anyone.

“Historically, eating disorders were thought to affect only a narrow portion of the population: young, white women of privilege.

“We now know that eating disorders do not discriminate. You cannot tell if a person has an eating disorder based on their age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or even weight,” said Kronengold.

Kronengold says the association’s hotline receives about 30,000 calls per year.

She says, although the helpline doesn’t treat eating disorders, they can help find treatment, support groups and research studies.

“Also, it is important to note, the earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.”

An Oct. 11 email to Pitt-Johnstown Health and Counseling Director Shelley Peruso about eating disorders was not answered.