Monday, March 17, 2008

Health Week: Defining and Detecting Eating Disorders

Obviously everyone needs to be conscious of the foods they eat, especially pageant contestants. Thus, the line between “competition mode” and eating disorder can be very blurry and grey. I’d be willing to bet big money that after winning or aging out every contestant says something like, “now I’m going to go eat _____!” We often see fun photos of a new titleholder with her crown glittering on her head as she eats a big piece of cake and it is clear she’s not just eating it to celebrate. Even this years Miss America production poked fun at the issue by offering the non-advancing contestants carbs as soon as they were eliminated!

All joking aside, when a woman (or man for that matter) becomes so obsessed with their weight and what they eat, the results can be fatal. Pageant contestants and fans need to work to make the blurry line I referred to above much clearer.

So what is an eating disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health says,

An eating disorder is marked by extremes. It is present when a person experiences severe disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme reduction of food intake or extreme overeating, or feelings of extreme distress or concern about body weight or shape.

A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spirals out of control. Eating disorders are very complex, and despite scientific research to understand them, the biological, behavioral and social underpinnings of these illnesses remain elusive.

The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia and bullimia.

The National Eating Disorders Screening Program explains,

People with anorexia nervosa literally starve themselves by dramatically restricting their food/caloric intake.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent periods of binge-eating in which the sufferer eats until overly full, often while feeling out of control. As the binge ends, fear of weight gain causes the person to develop compensatory behaviors such as purging, generally by intentionally vomiting, using laxatives or compulsively exercising.


CLICK HERE, HERE and HERE for surveys to help determine if you have an eating disorder.

Again, it is understandable to closely watch what you eat when you’re preparing for a competition, but these are signs that it has gone too far:

Anorexia symptoms:

· brittle hair and nails
· dry and yellowish skin
· growth of fine hair over body (e.g., lanugo)
· mild anemia, and muscle weakness and loss
· severe constipation
· low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
· lethargy
· drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time

Bulimia symptoms:

· chronically inflamed and sore throat
· swollen glands in the neck and below the jaw
· gastroesophageal reflux disorder
· intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
· kidney problems from diuretic abuse
· severe dehydration from purging of fluids
· worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acids

This website lists behavioral symptoms; some of these things may seem like common practices of pageant contestants and/or college students OR extremely obvious eating disorder signs, so I've bolded those I find especially notable:

* Dramatic weight loss in a relatively short period of time.
* Wearing big or baggy clothes or dressing in layers to hide body shape and/or weight loss.
* Obsession with weight and complaining of weight problems (even if "average" weight or thin).
* Obsession with calories and fat content of foods.
* Obsession with continuous exercise.
* Frequent trips to the bathroom immediately following meals (sometimes accompanied with water running in the bathroom for a long period of time to hide the sound of vomiting).
* Visible food restriction and self-starvation.
* Visible bingeing and/or purging.
* Use or hiding use of diet pills, laxatives, ipecac syrup (can cause immediate death!) or enemas.
* Isolation.
* Fear of eating around and with others.
* Unusual Food rituals such as shifting the food around on the plate to look eaten; cutting food into tiny pieces; making sure the fork avoids contact with the lips (using teeth to scrap food off the fork or spoon); chewing food and spitting it out, but not swallowing; dropping food into napkin on lap to later throw away.

* Hiding food in strange places (closets, cabinets, suitcases, under the bed) to avoid eating (Anorexia) or to eat at a later time (Bulimia).
* Flushing uneaten food down the toilet (can cause sewage problems).
* Vague or secretive eating patterns.
* Keeping a "food diary" or lists that consists of food and/or behaviors (ie., purging, restricting, calories consumed, exercise, etc.)
* Pre-occupied thoughts of food, weight and cooking.
* Visiting websites that promote unhealthy ways to lose weight.
* Reading books about weight loss and eating disorders.
* Self-defeating statements after food consumption.
* Hair loss.
* Pale or "grey" appearance to the skin.
* Dizziness and headaches.
* Frequent soar throats and/or swollen glands.

* Low self-esteem; feeling worthless.
* Often putting themselves down and complaining of being "too stupid" or "too fat" and saying they don't matter.
* Need for acceptance and approval from others.
* Complaints of often feeling cold.
* Low blood pressure.
* Loss of menstrual cycle.
* Constipation or incontinence.
* Bruised or calluses knuckles; bloodshot or bleeding in the eyes; light bruising under the eyes and on the cheeks.
* Perfectionistic personality.
* Loss of sexual desire or promiscuous relations.
* Mood swings.
* Depression.
* Fatigue.
* Insomnia ; poor sleeping habits.


  1. You might get some more Lynchburg hits on your blog- we talked about eating disorders last week in a class so I linked my classmates to your blog!

  2. Great! Thanks Laura!

    Can you offer any insight based on what your class discussed?



Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Your contribution will be moderated before it appears on the blog.