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Eating Disorders: A Psychological Problem, not a Dietary One

Ms. Suellyn Alexander March 31, 2009 12:00 PM This chat has ended. Thank you for participating.
Kristin Philbin (Moderator) - 11:54 AM:
Welcome! Today’s chat: Eating Disorders: A Psychological Problem, not a Dietary One, will begin shortly. Please start submitting your questions and clinical coordinator, Suellyn Alexander, will begin answering them as soon as we get started. While you are waiting for the chat to begin, feel free to visit the Center for Eating Disorders to obtain more information.

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore) - 11:56 AM:
My name is Suellyn Alexander RN. I am the clinical coordinator of the Center for Eating Disorders at NorthShore Highland Park Hospital in Highland Park Illinois. I have worked as part of the treatment team since 1991. We treat patients with anorexia and bulimia ages 13 and older. We work with individuals and families. I welcome this opportunity to chat with you about the complex and serious topic of eating disorders.

Shelly (Glenview, IL) - 11:58 AM:
My sister dieted to be thin for her son's wedding (lost 50 lbs.) Now she cannot eat at all and has a feeding tube. What is the prognosis for this disease?

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
The situation with your sister is an example of how serious and life threatening an eating disorder can become. The prognosis varies with the individual response to treatment interventions. As your sister is currently receiving feeding via a feeding tube, her situation is very advanced and requires a multidisciplinary team who are experts in the treatment of the eating disorder illness.

Natalie (Kenilworth, IL) - 12:04 PM:
What are the different types of eating disorders?

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
There are three main categories of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a category called eating disorders not otherwise specified. The anorexia type of eating disorders involves restrictive eating and weight loss. The bulimia category involves eating beyond the body's needs and a compensatory mechanism in response to the overeating. The third category may involve aspects of either restricting, overeating or both along with some other diagnostic criteria.

Diana (Chicago, IL) - 12:11 PM:
Are all eating disorders psychological, or are there physical factors involved too?

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
Good question Diana. A diagnosed eating disorder is a psychological illness. This type of psychological illness does have significant physical health risks associated with it. The behaviors that a person with an eating disorder uses in response to emotional aspects of the illnes may cause harm to many of the life sustaining functions of the body. We could talk for hours about all the physical problems that someone with an untreated eating disorder may experience. If you or someone you know is having physical problems associated with an eating disorder, be sure to contact your medical provider to report these symptoms or call us at the Center for Eating Disorders to discuss your situation. Our main number is #847-480-2617.

Jennifer (Chicago) - 12:21 PM:
How does a person know when they are crossing the line from dieting to an eating disorder? A friend of mine told me that she has been desperately trying to lose 15-20 lbs, skipping meals, living on food bars and diet drinks.The problem I see is that she weighs about 135 lbs to begin with and is a very tall woman. I think 15-20 lbs is too much. She has been under a lot of stress and I think some of her desire to lose weight is more of her wanting to control the chaos in her life.

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
Jennifer, you are on target with your concern for your friend. She may well have "crossed the line" between unhealthy disordered eating, under the guise, of "dieting" to an actual eating disorder. A person who is not overweight, desparately trying to lose weight by skipping meals and eating inadequately, who is also under a lot of personal stress may be vulnerable to the development of an eating disorder. She may initially feel a false sense of control as she shifts her focus from the emotional events in her life to a focus on dieting and controlling her weight. Eventually as the eating disorder progresses, a person will cross a further line, deeper into the illnes, when the false sense of control becomes a sense of being out of control or under the control of the eating disorder illness. Initially a person in this situation may be in a state of denial or unable to see their situation as clearly or as with as much concern as friends or family.

Natalie (Kenilworth, IL) - 12:30 PM:
What are some signs that someone has an eating disorder?

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
Natalie, thank you for asking this question that may be on the mind of many people who wonder if one of their friends, a family member or even they themselves maybe showing signs of developing an eating disorder. Signs of an eating disorder may include some of the following: Weight loss or extreme fear of gaining weight, binge eating (eating large quantities of food) vomiting or use of laxatives or diet pills, compulsive exercising, loss or irregularity of menstrual period, secretive behavior related to food, unusual eating habits, wearing excessively layered or loose clothing, complaints of feeling cold, unusual amounts of time spent in the bathroom, denial of any possible problem when confronted with symptoms, sleep disturbances, dental deterioration, anemia, low pulse and blood pressure, electolye imbalance, bleeding, kidney or bone problems, isolation and social withdrawal, mood swings, anxiety, depression, distored body image (seeing the body as larger than it really is.)

Diana (Chicago, IL) - 12:41 PM:
How are eating disorders treated? Is treatment the same for each kind?

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
Eating disorder treatment is best when provided by a multidisciplinary treatment team specializing in eating disorder illness. The treatment team includes a psychiatrist, a medical doctor, dietician, nurses and therapists who can assess and treat the illness and partner with the patient and family to develop a treatment plan to address the special needs and specfic type of eating disorder with which the person is struggling. The approach we use at our treatment center is geared toward treatment of anorexia and bulimia and is individualed to meet the special needs of each person. We begin with a diagnostic assessment and then make treatment recommendations. We have a partial hospitalization program and an outpatient program available, depending on the person's needs and situation.

Rachel (Winnetka, IL) - 12:50 PM:
Why don't people take eating disorders more seriously? There is so much damamge that can be done to a person's internal organs & esophogus, yet it seems that people in school take this disease very lightly.

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
Rachel, it is true that many people do not understand the seriousness of the eating disorder illness and the potential physical and emotional harm it can cause. Often, with more education, people can increase their understanding of the causes and treatment. With education, people begin to understand that the symptoms are the outgrowth of unhealthy responses to emotional pain,stress, depression or anxiety and that the treatment involves learning to deal with emotional issues in a more adaptive, life affirming way. People do get better from eating disorders, but it takes a lot of courage and support for people to begin to take the first steps in seeking help.

Kristin Philbin (Moderator) - 12:52 PM:
Thank you everyone for your great participation, the chat will be ending in approximately 10 minutes. Please submit any final questions you have.

Natalie (Kenilworth, IL) - 12:57 PM:
I have heard that having an eating disorder is very similar to having an addiction, is there any truth to this?

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore):
There are aspects of eating disorders which are similar to addictions. However with eating disorders, the abstinence is from the eating disorder behaviors, not from the food itself. So the challenge is to develop a healthy, normalized relationship with food.

Ms. Suellyn Alexander (NorthShore) - 1:00 PM:
I appreciate having had this opportunity to chat with you about the eating disorder illness. Please contact your medical provider to discuss any medical concerns you or your family members may have. Please seek a professional evaluation for any psychiatric (emotional) concerns your or your family members may have. Seek immediate medical attention if a person with an eating disorder displays any signs of emergency medical or psychiatric symptoms including chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, seizures, bleeding or worsening of anxiety or depression. I encourage you to call the NorthShore Center for Eating Disorders at #847-480-2617 to discuss your individual situation or to call the Access Center at #847-570-2500 to schedule an evaluation.

Kristin Philbin (Moderator) - 1:00 PM:
Thank you again for participating in our chat today. For more information please visit our Nutrition pages.

Also, a transcript of this chat will be available shortly.
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