“Sometimes when I sit down to eat, I get nervous and start to shake. I’m afraid that I’ll gain weight. I tell myself, ‘I have to lose [two more kilograms].’” –Kate.
“I want to be attractive, and I’m terrified of getting fat. But I don’t want anyone to know that I throw up my food after I eat. It’s very embarrassing.” –Emmy.
“I tell myself: ‘… Today, I’m going to do better…’ And then later in the day at some inevitable point, I binge. Guilt follows, and I want to die.”-Tina.
You want to look good, and that’s normal. You want to be comforted when you’re anxious or depressed. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But if you’re like any of the girls quoted here, you could have a problem. If you do, you’re not alone. The fact is, millions of youths –most of them girls –have an eating disorder.
Let’s take a closer look at ANOREXIA, BULIMIA, and BINGE EATING. Each of these disorders has distinct symptoms, but all of them involve an abnormal attitude toward food. If you see yourself in any of the descriptions that follow, be assured that help is available. You can get better!
No matter how slim she may be, when a girl with anorexia looks in the mirror, she sees an obese person. To lose weight, she will resort to extreme measures. “I became compulsive about counting calories, “says one sufferer.
“I carefully planned what I would eat for the week, skipping meals and exercising excessively whenever I thought I’d consumed too many calories. I look up to six laxatives a day.” Before long, symptoms of anorexia start to show. Weight loss is a common sign, but the sufferer may also experience hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, and loss of bone density. Menstrual periods can become irregular or even cease for several consecutive months.
Perhaps these symptoms sound harmless, but make no mistake –Anorexia is life threatening. One study found that in time, up to 10 percent of sufferers die from their disorder, usually as a result of organ failure or other problems related to improper nutrition.
Instead of avoiding food, the girl with BULIMIA binges, consuming as many as 15,000 calories in just two hours! Then she purges what she has eaten, usually by making her vomit or by taking laxatives or diuretics.
Bingeing is most often carried on in secret. “After school, if I came home before anyone else, I usually binged,” says one girl. “I was careful to hide the evidence.” After the binge, however, guilt set in. “I would feel terrible about myself,” she says, “but I knew I would easily erase my actions. I’d go upstairs, vomit, and feel not only relieved but also empowered.”
Despite any seeming benefit, purging is dangerous. Laxative misuse weakens the intestinal lining and can lead to inflammation or infection. Frequent vomiting can result in dehydration, tooth decay, damage to the esophagus, and even heart failure.
Like the bulimic, a binge eater will consume a large amount of food. The difference is that she will not purge. As a result, the binge eater may be overweight. Some will, however, starve themselves after a binge or engage in rigorous exercise. Sometimes when weight is maintained in this way, family and friends remain oblivious to the binger’s plight.
Like anorexics and bulimics, binge eaters have an unhealthy attitude toward food. One girl says of herself and other sufferers: “Food is our personal, secret friend –maybe our only friend.” Another says: “While bingeing, nothing else seems to matter. Food seems all important –it’s comforting –and then the binge is followed by feelings of guilt and depression.”
Even without purging, bingeing is dangerous. It can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a number of other maladies. It can also take a heavy emotional toll.
“I started losing weight. Then I had my wisdom teeth out, and I couldn’t eat. That plunged me into anorexia. I became obsessed with my looks, my figure. I was never thin enough. My lowest weight was alarming. I did so much damage to my body! Now I can’t grow my nails. I messed up my internal clock. I have had four miscarriages. I’m in early menopause, and my metabolism barely works. I also have colitis. All of this because I had to be thin.” Nicole.
I have a learning disability –dyslexia. This condition, which affects my father, my mother, and my three younger brothers, has made it difficult for me to read my native Danish, and school proved to be a real struggle. Nevertheless, I have received much help and encouragement, especially from my family.
WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
The word “dyslexia” comes from Greek and means “poor speech.” A life-long condition, dyslexia is a language-related disability that especially involves reading. People who have dyslexia tend to have difficulty making the connection between letters and the sounds those letters represent. Specific symptoms, however, may differ from person to person.
WHAT CAUSES DYSLEXIA?
The exact causes remain unclear, although heredity is a factor. While studies indicate abnormal brain development and function, dyslexia is not linked to general intelligence or lack of the desire to learn. In fact, sufferers are often gifted in areas not requiring strong language skills.
HOW IS DYSLEXIA TREATED?
Early identification of the condition is important. Effective training in language skills involves using several senses, especially hearing, seeing, and touching. So that they can progress at their own pace, many students need one-on-one assistance. They may also need help with emotional issues resulting from difficulty in school. With good tutoring and hard work, students with dyslexia can learn to read and write well.
WHAT IS A FOOD ALLERGY?
“Food allergy has no universally accepted definition,” according to a group of scientists led by Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen in their report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, most experts believe that allergic reactions are primarily triggered by the immune system.
An allergic reaction to a certain food is typically a response to a protein in that food. The immune system erroneously identifies that protein as harmful. When a particular protein enters the body, the immune system may create a type of antibody known as IgE to neutralize the perceived invader.
When the food allergen is again ingested, the antibodies that were created earlier can trigger a release of chemicals, including HISTAMINE. Under normal circumstances, histamine plays a beneficial role in the immune system. But for reasons not clearly understood, the presence of IgE antibodies and the subsequent release of histamine provoke an allergic reaction in people who happen to be hypersensitive to a particular food protein.
This explains why you could eat a new food without any apparent reaction but eat the same food again and experience an allergic reaction.
WHAT IS FOOD INTOLERANCE?
Food intolerance, like a food allergy, may be an adverse reaction to a food item. But unlike a food allergy [which is triggered directly by the immune system], a food intolerance is a reaction of the digestive system, and thus no antibodies are involved.
Basically, a person may have trouble breaking down a food, perhaps because of enzyme deficiencies or because of chemicals found in the food that are difficult to process.
For example, lactose intolerance occurs when the gut does not produce the needed enzymes to digest the type of sugars found in milk products.
As it is not a matter of the production of antibodies, food intolerance can manifest itself the first time the food is ingested. Quantity may be the determining factor –a small amount of a certain food may be tolerated, but a problem may occur when larger amounts are ingested. This is different from severe food allergies in which even a tiny amount of food can cause a life-threatening reaction.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
If you suffer from a food allergy, you could have itching; hives; swelling of the throat, eyes, or tongue; nausea; vomiting; or diarrhea. And in a worst-case scenario, you could have a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, and even cardiac arrest.
An anaphylactic reaction can progress rapidly and be fatal. Potentially, any food could cause an allergy. However, the most severe food allergies are commonly caused by just a few foods: namely, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat.
A person can develop an allergy at any age. Studies show that genetics play an important role, and a child is more likely to develop an allergy if one or both of his parents have allergies. It is not uncommon for children to grow out of allergies.
Symptoms of food intolerance are generally less alarming than those of extreme allergic reactions. Food intolerance may cause stomach pain, bloating, gas, cramps, headaches, skin rash, tiredness, or a general feeling of malaise. Intolerance may be related to a variety of foods –dairy, wheat, gluten, alcohol, and yeast are among the most common.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
If you think you may suffer from food allergy or food intolerance, you may decide to get checked by a specialized health professional. Self-diagnosis and autonomously deciding to eliminate certain foods can at times be harmful, as you may inadvertently deprive your body of necessary nutrients.
There is no widely accepted treatment for severe food allergies other than the total avoidance of the particular foods that trigger the allergy. It is often recommended that sufferers of severe allergies carry a special pen containing adrenaline [epinephrine] that can be self-injected in case of an emergency. Some health professionals suggest that children with allergies carry or wear some visible indication that can warn teachers or caregivers of their condition.
On the other hand, if you have milder food allergies or food intolerance, you may see some benefit from simply reducing how often you eat certain foods and the amount. In some cases, however, sufferers are compelled to avoid the foods in question altogether or at least for some time, depending on the severity of the intolerance.
So if you have food allergy or food intolerance, you may find comfort in knowing that many sufferers have learned to manage their condition and still enjoy a wide variety of nutritious and delicious foods