Kingston— More women die as a result of eating disorders than all other mental illnesses combined, experts say. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are two of the most common. Those with the disorders fight to control their weight and stay thin, sometimes with deadly results.
“The more in control of eating you try to be, the more out of control you become,” said Dr. Geraldine Merola, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Kingston. “There’s so much fear because the hold on the control is so delicate.” Since the late 1980s, 30 percent of Merola’s clients sought her help with eating disorders. Nationwide, 90 percent of people with eating disorders are female.
Those with anorexia nervosa diet destructively and are very particular about what they eat, when they eat, even how they chew, Merola said. Some days, an anorexic may not eat at all. This ritualistic eating causes women to become irritable, light-headed and exhausted.
But anorexics may also binge, uncontrollably eating massive amounts. Then they purge, eliminating the food through self-induced vomiting or with laxatives, diuretics and enemas.
Some 800,000 American women are anorexic. Ten percent die of starvation or suicide.
While anorexics may feel pride in their emaciated figures and ability to go without food, those with bulimia are ashamed of what they do, Merola said. Those with bulimia may also appear relatively healthy.
Bulimia is more common than anorexia; health experts estimate that as many as 3 percent, or more than 4 million women, are bulimic.
“Individuals with eating disorders live in terror, always afraid an extra bite might send them out of control. They become obsessed with food and eating, thinking of little else from morning to night” Merola said. “The behavior and the thinking take on a life of their own.”
Early intervention is key. Merola said it’s best to get someone with an eating disorder to a therapist at an early stage. If the disorder takes hold, anti-depressants and even hospitalization may be needed.
Signs of Eating Disorders
The following symptoms can be warning signs of anorexia or bulimia:
An intense preoccupation with food and dieting Rapid weight loss Signs of vomiting Leaving the dinner table and disappearing into the bathroom Signs of depression Irritability Secretive Over-ritualized eating patterns Compulsive exercising Withdrawn behavior Bad breath Dental problems Hair loss Amenorrhea: the absence of at least three menstrual cycles.