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More Bad Advice

Posted Aug 25 2008 2:48pm
I don't know why I'm still astounded at all of the mis -information on eating disorders out there, but I am.

This fascinating tidbit comes from an advice column in the New York Daily News:

Recovering from eating disorders a lifelong challenge.

At first I cringed a bit because this seemed like just another you-will-always-be-sick sturm und drang article. To some extent, it is true: for chronic, adult sufferers, the stats aren't necessarily something to put a spring in your step.

On the other hand, stats aren't everything.

The two guys writing this column (one of them with a "Dr." before his name, which means precisely what, I don't know) were discussing the causes of anorexia and how hard it was to recover. Only they managed to perpetuate almost every myth about eating disorders out there.

Like the following:

Dr. Dave: Anorexia is also often accompanied by loss of menstruation and shrinking of breasts. This makes girls feel "small" and "young" again --

Bill: -- and allows them to put off dealing with the excitement and fear of their emergent sexuality a bit longer?

Dr. Dave: It is also a way they can control something in a world they see as beyond their control.

I have always felt my world was out of control, that I was out of control. And once the anorexia began, I thought my food and eating was out of control. I was eating too much, or the wrong things, or not exercising enough. The eating disorder was a desperate attempt to control them, and control the anxiety that they caused. The perfectionism was a desperate attempt to control everything else.

I was trying to control fear, not food.

And fear of emergent sexuality? Why, hello, Dr. Freud, nice to meet you.

Secondly, and the irony in this is just beyond classic, they quote a doctor with a weight loss guide for girls about the necessity of gaining weight during puberty. Like she should talk!

Bill: With National Eating Disorders Awareness Week upon us (Feb. 21-March 1), I’ ve been wondering why anorexia and bulimia occur so much more often among women -- especially young girls. So I called a friend of mine, Dr. Susan Bartell , author of "Dr. Susan's Girls-Only Weight Loss Guide," who said that one reason is that women's bodies change so much during puberty. Many fashion-conscious girls reject the changes as "fat."...

Dr. Dave: ...But I have many adult female patients, too, who crave the emotions and physiology of starvation. Did Dr. Bartell go into how the brain reacts to self-starvation by releasing a compensatory chemical called opiods ?

Bill: They’re the cause of the high, she says, to which people with eating disorders become addicted. My answer to that was, yes but with the great emphasis we put on feminine beauty, how can her patients become addicted to looking three days dead?

You know, Dave, in my experience, women are much more sensible than men when it comes to good looks. Sure they like a handsome man, but that’s where the female calculus merely begins. They also ask themselves if he is grown-up, reliable and true, manly without being a jerk about it, generous-natured and capable of love.

Dr. Dave: You were asking her, since women are so sensible about the value of good looks in men, why couldn ’t they be just as sensible about their own?

Bill: Dr. Bartell said the very mark of eating disorders is the distortion that occurs when the addict looks in the mirror. "They TRULY see themselves as fat," she says, "even when they're skin and bones."

I know there are 12-step groups for eating disorders, like EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous) and OA ( Overeaters Anonymous), but TDDA (Three Days Dead Anonymous)? That sounds more for people with necrophilia than anorexia.

I'm just glad that before the article was over, Dr. Dave went to such heroic efforts to distinguish between anorexia and bulimia.

Dr. Dave: We usually lump both anorexia and bulimia under the one catchall title -- eating disorders. But anorexics go for stimulants which cause weight loss: cocaine, black market Ritalin , etc. Bulimics tend to abuse alcohol, street drugs and laxatives.

That sure clears things up, Dr. Dave. I'm sure they'll add that to the DSM .

So I just have one request for journalists and other well-meaning people who intend to write about eating disorders: learn about them first. Because inaccuracy is the last thing we need.

Now I'm, uh, going to go find a TDDA meeting.
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