HOW TO SPOT AN EAT­ING DISORDER

Friday - - The Big Story -

told Gulf News last year, “it is quite easy to over­look this dan­ger­ous trend in the ado­les­cent pop­u­la­tion.”

For two years after that first fast, Sarah tested her­self, cel­e­brat­ing the times she sur­vived on just wa­ter, chastis­ing her­self when she had to have a car­rot or piece of bread.

And although it pe­tered out for a short pe­riod dur­ing her mid-teens, it came back with a vengeance when she was 17.

‘An eat­ing disorder is not about eat­ing. It’s about var­i­ous un­der­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems’

This time, wor­ried about her ap­pear­ance and what young men may think of her, she would go days with­out food in a bid to lose weight, be­fore binge eat­ing to com­bat the de­pres­sion such an ac­tion brought on. And this time she would not get well for 20 years.

“It af­fected my life, there’s no doubt about that, but I al­ways thought I had it un­der con­trol,” says Sarah, who was liv­ing in London at the time.

“I’d can­cel go­ing out for din­ner at the last minute be­cause I was hav­ing a day when I wasn’t eat­ing or, con­versely, I was hav­ing a day when I’d binged. But it still felt man­age­able. I would ac­tu­ally tell friends that I was one of those peo­ple who could eat what­ever they liked and never get fat.” That is un­til 2007. That year her mother died – she’d been di­ag­nosed with can­cer the day after Sarah’s first child was born in 2002 – and the loss sent the new mother’s eat­ing prob­lems surg­ing back to the sur­face. Her weight bounced from 40kg to 66kg – and back again – all in less than a year, as she fluc­tu­ated be­tween com­plete fast­ing and pe­ri­ods of binge­ing. To put that in con­text, as Sarah stands at 165cm, her ideal weight would have been about 55kg.

“My one bless­ing might have been that I could never make my­self throw up,” she re­calls. “Oth­er­wise I’m cer­tain I would have started do­ing that as well. “But my hus­band had ob­vi­ously no­ticed things weren’t right be­fore and we’d dis­cussed them and I’d been to a doc­tor, but that’s when he re­alised how se­ri­ous it was, I think,” she says. “We went to a GP and they ba­si­cally talked about me like I wasn’t there. It was de­cided I had to go to a hos­pi­tal.” et, even at that point, she re­fused to ac­knowl­edge the se­ri­ous­ness of the prob­lem. “Ev­ery­one else in hos­pi­tal looked so bad,” she says. “They were half my weight. I just thought ‘What am I even do­ing here?’”

After three weeks she was checked out. The binge eat­ing, fol­lowed by pe­ri­ods of fast­ing, con­tin­ued. And what­ever so­lu­tions were tried there­after, she would ul­ti­mately go back to that same pat­tern. “I’d sort of ac­cepted that’s who I was,” she says. That is un­til the day her hus­band came home and an­nounced he had been of­fered a job in the UAE. “I’ve not had a real re­lapse since I got on the plane,” she Eat­ing dis­or­ders are of­ten called the se­cret dis­eases be­cause suf­fer­ers at­tempt to hide them. So how can you spot if some­one you know – your child, your part­ner or your friend – has a prob­lem?

Anorexia ner­vosa sees suf­fer­ers starve them­selves in se­cret be­cause of an ir­ra­tional fear of be­com­ing over­weight. Symp­toms in­clude:

Not eat­ing much with the ex­cuse they’re not hun­gry, have lost their ap­petites or had some­thing ear­lier while no one was around.

A neg­a­tive or dis­torted self­im­age, in­clud­ing para­noia about be­ing over­weight.

Drink­ing lots of wa­ter to com­bat in­evitable de­hy­dra­tion and hunger pangs.

So­cial with­drawal, ir­ri­tabil­ity and lack of emo­tion – all caused by lack of nu­tri­ents mak­ing it into the body.

Bu­limia ner­vosa sees suf­fer­ers binge eat fol­lowed by vom­it­ing, lax­a­tive abuse, ex­ces­sive ex­er­cise or pe­ri­ods of star­va­tion in an at­tempt to purge the body of the calo­ries that were taken on board. Symp­toms in­clude:

Eat­ing un­til the point of dis­com­fort, of­ten alone, and of­ten in se­cret.

Go­ing to the bath­room im­me­di­ately after or dur­ing meals.

Dam­aged teeth and gums, and sores in the mouth.

Ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat and sleep­ing pat­terns.

Pe­ri­ods of fast­ing and se­verely ex­ces­sive ex­er­cise, de­signed to make up for guilt of binge eat­ing. says. A va­ri­ety of fac­tors, it seems, helped her…

Dr Luthra has a say­ing: an eat­ing disorder is not about eat­ing. “It’s about un­der­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems that

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