Entries in Eating Disorders (25)


Experts, Recovering Anorexics Warn About Dangers of ‘Thinspiration’ Sites

Tom Morello/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There is growing online pro-anorexia, or “pro ana” movement dominated by anorexics who view their quest for extreme thinness as a lifestyle choice rather than an illness, and it has many experts worried.

Thinspiration blogs and content, known as thinspo for short, are used as motivational tools by people who are trying to get dangerously thin. The number of pro ana and pro bulimia sites increased 470 percent in the past two years. One of the top thinspo sites,, receives an average of 280,000 page views per day, according to the web analytics site

Thinspo is dominated by photos, many of them of them depicting skeletal young women and girls with prominent ribs, twig-like limbs and sallow visages. To an outsider, these pictures can be disturbing. To a girl deeply focused on her eating disorder, they can affirm her life choices and further distort her view of what a normal, healthy female body should look like.

Claire Mysko, who manages, the National Eating Disorder Association's online community that offers support for those with eating disorders, said the women who fixate on thinspo content see it as ticket to happiness and acceptance.

While there is a counter-movement to shut thinspo sites down and ban thinspo content, it’s proven hard to enforce.  In 2008, France banned websites that promoted an eating disorder lifestyle or that used common thinspiration hashtags, and several popular social networks are following suit.

Still, a quick trip through any social site with a purported thinspo ban -- particularly Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest -- show that content is visible and thriving. When a site is shut down, it simply sets up shop elsewhere, or finds other ways to circumvent the bans.

"It is very difficult to truly eradicate thinspo because of the nature of the Internet," Mysko said.

Mysko said she thought it may be more effective to counteract the thinspo message with positive alternatives.

"We know people struggling with eating disorders and poor body image are looking to connect with others who know what they are going through," she said. "We need to offer a safe, supportive environment that promotes recovery and helps them disengage from an unhealthy mindset."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Three Facts Families Should Know About Eating Disorders

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Eating disorders aren’t your typical dinner table conversation.  However, studies suggest more people die of anorexia than any other mental health disorder. In a recent Twitter chat on eating disorders hosted by ABC News’ chief health medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, several other experts identified three important facts that families should know about eating disorders.

Anorexia, Bulimia Aren’t the Only Eating Disorders

While anorexia and bulimia are the most well-known eating disorders, tweeters pointed out that binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified, or EDNOS, are actually more common.

Patients with EDNOS have symptoms similar to those with anorexia and bulimia, such as distorted thoughts about their bodies and unhealthy eating behaviors, but do not fully meet the strict definitions of either.

EDNOS are sometimes dismissed as “not being real eating disorders,” but they carry the same risks as anorexia and bulimia. The consequences of eating disorders discussed in the chat include physical risks and mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It Often Takes a Family Member or Friend to Get Treatment Started

Denial is common in eating disorders. Patients fail to recognize the seriousness of low weight and do not always seek treatment on their own.

Many patients in recovery tweeted stories of family members and friends who recognized the symptoms of an eating disorder and intervened.  Warning signs discussed in the chat highlighted odd behaviors and rituals surrounding food, rather than weight loss. Look for a preoccupation with food, and inward emotional signals.

“Increasing isolation around meals is a red flag for eating disorders,” warned NYU Langone Medical.

‘Talk About It, Talk About It More’

“Talk about it, talk about it more,” tweeted Dawn Matusz, a patient who currently started treatment for binge eating disorder.  ”Bring it into the open, and it can no longer hide.”

Experts, advocates, and patients alike stressed the importance of talking about eating disorders, and the earlier, the better, as early intervention helps with recovery.  ”Err on the side of over-discussing,” tweeted Dr. Russell Marx of NEDA.

Even once a patient starts treatment, it is important to keep talking because family and social support are essential to recovery.  Eating disorders thrive in secrecy.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Men with Eating Disorders Have Tougher Time Getting Help

Courtesy Victor Avon(NEW YORK) -- Of the estimated 30 million people in the United States with eating disorders, about 10 million of them are men, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Despite this, many residential treatment facilities don't accept men, and the male diagnosis isn't always on doctors' radars.

The first symptom of anorexia listed on the American Psychiatric Association's website is "menstrual periods cease," illustrating the medical community’s predisposition to treat anorexia as a disease that affects only women.

According to Cynthia Bulik, who directs the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, men with eating disorders face extra hurdles because doctors don't think to diagnose them properly to begin with. They're also ashamed because there's a misconception that eating disorders are women's diseases, and that they are more prevalent among gay men.

"Eating disorders really don't care what your sexual orientation is," Bulik said.

Bulik said she once had a male patient whose mother brought him to a pediatrician because she thought he had an eating disorder, but the pediatrician told her that was impossible because "boys don't get eating disorders." So the doctor gave the boy a battery of tests to find a rare disease he didn't have.

Texas therapist Jacquelyn Ekern said many of her male patients fell into anorexia or bulimia after sports -- such as wrestling -- pushed them to be a certain weight in a hurry. The men who develop eating disorders after crash dieting also have underlying psychological factors that predispose them toward eating disorders, such as depression, anxiety or having a parent with an eating disorder.

To make matters worse, men are less likely to seek help once they realize they have a problem, said Dr. Vicki Berkus, who directs Eating Disorder Programs for CRC Health Group.

"I think for males it's that males don't talk about feeling dizzy," Berkus said. "That old 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps, real men don't have issues,' which is totally false." It also tends to be easier for men to hide the physical symptoms of their anorexia, due to baggier clothes and difference in body type.

Even if they are correctly diagnosed and choose to seek treatment, men with eating disorders face additional challenges. Many treatment facilities only accept women. If Victor Avon, a recovered anorexic and spokesman for the National Eating Disorders Association, hadn't found the Center for Eating Disorders Care at University Medical Center of Princeton, an hour from his home in New Jersey, he would have had to travel to Colorado, Utah or Nevada to find a place that accepted him.

Bulik said the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association this spring is expected to exclude the missing menstrual cycle from its anorexia description. That's a step toward destroying the misconception that only women can get it.

"This is not something that is rare," she said. "I think we need to get past the misperception that this is something that's rare, because it does a huge disservice to boys and men."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Karl Lagerfeld Says Models Are ‘Not That Skinny’

Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage(LONDON) -- Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel honcho who called Adele “a little too fat” and complained about “fat mummies” ruining fashion, is at it again. In an interview this week with the U.K.’s Channel 4 News, Lagerfeld was asked about the fashion industry’s influence on women’s body image. There was this exchange:

Reporter: “You think it’ll be O.K. for women to be fat in the future?”

Lagerfeld: “Unfortunately, yes.”

Reporter: “But not O.K. now?”

Lagerfeld: “No.”

He then called the subject “ridiculous” and said, “The story with anorexic girls -- nobody works with anorexic girls. That has nothing to do with fashion. People who have that, they have problem with family and things like this. There are less than one percent of anorexic girls, but there are over -- in France, I don’t know about England -- over 30 percent of girls who are big, big, overweight.”

Eating disorders were long ago proven to be complex issues. In terms of the statistics, Lagerfeld actually isn’t that far off, if you apply his numbers to the U.S. Sixty percent of adult women in the U.S. are considered overweight, and just over one-third of those are obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the likelihood of an American woman becoming anorexic or bulimic during her lifetime is 0.9 and 1.5 percent, respectively, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But then he went on to say, “The models are skinny but they’re not that skinny. All the new girls are not that skinny. You know, there’s a new evolution.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nicole Scherzinger Reveals 8-Year Bulimia Battle

SAV/FilmMagic(LOS ANGELES) -- As a member of the Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger appeared to be at the height of her fame, winning MTV awards, selling albums and appearing all over the world.

Behind the scenes, however, the singer was in the midst of a nearly decade-long battle with bulimia.

“I just hated myself,” Scherzinger, 34, told VH1′s Behind the Music in a special that aired Sunday night. “I hated myself. I really was so disgusted with myself and so embarrassed. I felt so alone. I was in a group, and I never felt so alone in my life.”

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by frequent binge-eating episodes followed by "behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors," according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  Unlike anorexia in which someone may engage in extreme diet restrictions even when they appear underweight, bulimic behavior is typically done in secret and is often accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame, NIMH says.

In the revealing interview, Scherzinger says it was her first photo shoot with the all-female group, known for their skimpy outfits and racy dance moves, that started her downward spiral into bulimia.

“It was all new to me and I was incredibly scared,” she said.  “I was not comfortable with my body.”

While some of Scherzinger’s fellow Dolls had a hint of what their bandmate was doing to herself, Scherzinger says the fans who were buying the Dolls’ music and going to their concerts never had a hint of what was behind her smile and sexy dance moves.

“I never did drugs, but kinda doing things to myself was my addiction,” she told VH1. “It’s like when I got off stage, I was on this high, and I’d come back to my room and I’d be alone, so I would just do things. My bulimia was my addiction; hurting myself was my addiction.”

People with bulimia can usually maintain what is viewed as a normal weight. But the disorder can have devastating effects on the body such as causing heart irregularities, decreased oral health, muscle fatigue, stomach ulcers, intestinal problems, anemia and dehydration, according to the Office on Women's Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It was only when the Pussycat Dolls disbanded in 2009, when Scherzinger was just 31-years-old, that she began therapy, she says, to save her life.

“I grew.  I started to embrace myself, as a woman and my curves,” she said.

[For information on eating disorder treatment from the Mayo Clinic, CLICK HERE.]

The former Doll went on to win Dancing With the Stars in 2010 and host The X Factor on Fox. She left the show earlier this year, replaced by new judges Demi Lovato and Britney Spears, but says she feels the best chapter in her life is still to come.

“I feel on top of the world and today I feel like the sexiest woman alive,” she told VH1.

Scherzinger’s revelation puts her in the chorus of music superstars like Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera who have stood up recently to publicly defend their bodies.  Scherzinger says, however, that going public with her disorder was not an easy decision.

“Yeah, I’m nervous about it,” she said. “It’s embarrassing. I never spoke about it. Like I said, I never want to play a victim, and I never wanted my family to hear about things from me because I think it would break their heart, you know?”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Anorexia Patients Overestimate Their Own Sizes in Study

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Now there's more proof to show that patients with anorexia can't tell how thin they've actually become.

Researchers from the University Hospital of Lille in France took a new approach to asking anorexic patients about how they perceived their body size. They used a projector to shine the outlines of doors of different widths on a wall and asked participants whether they would be able to fit through them. Then, researchers asked patients whether someone standing nearby would be able to fit through the same openings.

Although the 25 women without anorexia nervosa were able to answer correctly in both scenarios, the 25 women who had anorexia were only able to answer correctly when they were deciding whether someone else could fit, according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"I think it's really fabulous that these researchers are able to provide scientific proof of what people who have worked with these patients have known for a very long time," said Dr. Elizabeth Frenkel, a supervising psychologist at the Princeton HealthCare System's eating disorder program. "They're trying to demonstrate that you can show a clinical and statistically significant difference between people who have these disorders and people who don't."

Psychologists said it isn't "new news" that anorexia patients have body dysmorphic disorder -- a preoccupation with "defects" in their body shape that aren't really there -- but it sheds light on an interesting piece of the anorexia puzzle.

"It's one of those compelling phenomena where you have a person who appears to be completely cognitively intact," said Phillip Levindowsky, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School. "How could they be so off in their ability to make these judgments?"

Although this study proves what doctors have been seeing for years, the research is still in its early stages. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, who directs the University of North Carolina's Eating Disorders Program, said a study of only 25 anorexic patients and 25 controls is not enough to draw conclusions, so the researchers' work will have to be replicated.

The researchers in France who authored the study were not available for comment.

Dr. Susan Albers, a therapist and spokeswoman for the Academy for Eating Disorders, said no matter how many times a patient hears how thin she (or he) has become, the patient doesn't believe it. In fact, hearing that they don't see their body accurately is often frightening and causes the patient to become defensive.

Albers said anorexic patients are often intelligent high-achievers.

"They genuinely know what they feel," she said.

Bulik said she generally has to "agree to disagree" with her patients on the subject because they just don't experience their size the way outsiders do.

"A good example is that we all have different pain thresholds, and it is impossible to experience someone else's experience of a pain level," Bulik said. "Someone might find a needle stick to be extremely painful. If you say to them, 'Ah, c'mon, that doesn't hurt,' you are trying to impose your experience on them and you are not validating the fact that they are feeling things differently than you."

So she and Albers remind patients that they do not share the same perception as everyone else. Albers added that the study will be helpful to hand to patients and their family to explain body dysmorphia in "black and white."

Frenkel said it's difficult to alter a patient's body image, so she teaches patients coping mechanisms, which help with recovery. Over time, patients can regain a healthier body image.

The disorder can last six months or a lifetime, Bulik said, adding that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of a psychiatric disorder. A quarter of all patients relapse or have chronic anorexia, she said.

Although some professionals suggest that eating disorders may stem from serotonin problems in the brain, there is no "gold standard" of care known to produce a cure, Frenkel said. Part of that is because research on eating disorders is still in its early stages.

Although 10 million people suffer from anorexia nervosa, only $7 million has gone toward research, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. That's compared with 4.5 million people who have Alzheimer's disease and 2.2 million people who have schizophrenia, which get $412 million and $249 million toward research, respectively.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Kate Upton Fires Back Against Body Critics

Tony Barson/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- In the midst of a very public battle over her body image, model Kate Upton has fired back against those who have been attacking her weight.

A pro-anorexia website called Upton “thick” and “vulgar” while criticizing her appearance in raunchy burger commercials.

But 20-year-old Upton has had enough and finally fired back.

Upton said, “I’m not going to starve just to be thin. I want to enjoy life and I can’t if I’m not eating and miserable,” The Sun reported Monday.   

A spokesman for the model added, “It’s absurd. Kate is gorgeous and very healthy.”

The unnamed female blogger who sparked the Upton uproar acknowledges preferring the “skinny aesthetic,” wrote in a July 8 post on the website “Skinny Gurl” that she has been deluged with angry emails and threatened with rape and death.

The controversy first began back in June when the blogger wrote that Upton was, “confidently lumbering up the runway like there’s a buffet at the end of it,” and also called her a “little piggie” with “huge thighs, NO waist, big fat floppy boobs, terrible body definition….”

She continued: “Did you know that humans are 80% genetically identical to cows? Well, allow me to prove it to you….” That line was followed by an unflattering photo of the back of Upton’s lingerie-clad body on the runway.

Since then, the fashion world’s most influential insiders have denounced the blogger and risen to Upton’s defense.

“Running this site where you actually praise women for staying emaciated and skinny and then to go out there and then track someone who has a normal body, I mean, she’s got issues,” said Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of MORE magazine.

“She’s laughing all the way to the bank,” supermodel and author Carol Alt said of Upton. “I would just say keep your end up and keep moving forward.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Eating Disorders in Older Women on the Rise

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While many attribute eating disorders to teen girls and young women, experts say there may be a growing number of older people who experience the same struggles.  Whether there is more awareness and diagnoses remains unclear, but many clinical experts said they have seen a spike in women over 40 seeking treatment in recent years.

The triggers may be different among different age groups, but traumatic life events tend to trigger or contribute to eating disorders, no matter the age, said Susie Roman, program coordinator at the National Eating Disorders Association.  When older women experience eating disorders, most of the time it is due to an earlier eating disorder that has resurfaced, but not always.  New cases and those that resurface can be triggered by divorce, death of a loved one or children moving away.

"Older women who have eating disorders that return can often have a harder time changing since the behaviors are so a part of them but whether the eating disorder is different is not clear," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University at St. Louis.

"A common perception of eating disorders is that it's all about food and weight," said Sarah Parker, director of anxiety and eating disorders at the Reeds Treatment Center in New York.  "On the surface, they are, but it is issues related to significant interpersonal stressors, and they end up coping with these stressors by controlling what they eat or how they look."

More than 10 million Americans suffer from bulimia, anorexia or other types of eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, and millions more suffer from binge eating.

Older women often fly under the radar with their disorders, though.  Doctors are much more apt to notice eating disorders in teens who have lost an excessive amount of weight, or, if a young woman stops menstruating -- a telltale sign of anorexia -- a doctor will investigate further.  Parents are usually involved with the feeding and care of teens, and because of this, family, friends and physicians are more likely to become skeptical of a change in eating and exercise habits.

While the health risks of an eating disorder are damaging at any age, older women are at an even increased risk because their bodies have aged more, said Parker.

"There can be significant damage to the heart and heart muscles," said Parker.  "In really severe cases, the heart can stop functioning.  Fat stores in the brain can become depleted and affect cognitive and neurological functioning.  It can also result in osteoporosis and organ failure."

If friends or family do suspect a person is suffering from an eating disorder, Parker encouraged people to remember that the illness is an "expression of pain."

"Families and friends tend to say, 'you should eat more,' or 'you need to exercise less,' but that can turn into a negative cycle very quickly," said Parker.  "Try to respond to the pain over the behavior by saying something like 'it seems like you're not doing very well, can we help you speak with a therapist or minister?'"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Girl Petitions "Seventeen" Magazine to Feature Un-Airbrushed Photos

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Long lean legs, a teeny tiny waist, perfect skin and glossy hair—these are the flawless features commonly found in fashion magazines. But who looks like this? Nobody, because while models have always been made to look beautiful, never before have they been made to look so skinny, so airbrushed and so impossibly perfect—and some say that can be dangerous.

Julia Bluhm, an 8th grader from Waterville, Maine, has recently become a crusader against airbrushed ads. The 14-year-old traveled to New York City Wednesday to lead a protest, which was set up like a mock photo shoot, on the doorstep of the offices of the Hearst Corporation, which owns Seventeen magazine, one of the biggest teen magazines in the fashion industry.

"We want to show Seventeen that we love our body just for who we are and we don't need Photoshop to fix us ... and we can be pretty without—we can take pictures of ourselves and be pretty," Bluhm said.

Her campaign started two weeks ago when she taped herself asking her friends about airbrushed photos during lunch in her middle school cafeteria. That led Bluhm to start a petition on entitled "Seventeen Magazine: Give Girls Images of Real Girls", asking the magazine to feature one un-airbrushed photo spread a month. It has over 25,000 signatures from all over the world.

Lynn Grefe, the president of the Eating Disorder Association of America, said she has seen firsthand the negative effects that airbrushed ads can have on young children. Grefe said kids are a "vulnerable population" who look at these ads and think "why don't I look like that." Some develop eating disorders even before they are teenagers.

Youth and beauty have graced magazine covers for decades, but what has made today's images more dangerous is the cutting-edge Photoshopping technology. According to Sara Ziff, a former model and founder of the Model Alliance, in her business, a photo isn't finished until it's fixed.

"Pretty much every image in advertising is going to have some Photoshop and that's not necessarily a terrible thing," Ziff said. "But there are degrees of Photoshopping. You see people whose bodies have been really reshaped to look significantly younger or significantly thinner and I think that's really the source of concern."

Grefe said she is pushing for some controversial legislation that would require warning labels to be put on all images that have been airbrushed, similar, she said, to the tobacco warnings on cigarette packages.

"We're not saying this image is going to kill you, even though eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness," she said. "We want to educate quickly, which means that if a child can read, then the child can see that this is not a real photograph."

In the meantime, Julia Bluhm's protest earned her a meeting with Seventeen magazine's editor-in-chief on Wednesday.

In a statement to Nightline, a spokesperson for Seventeen said, "We're proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue—it's exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers—so we invited her to our office to meet with editor-in-chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that's how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity."

And Bluhm plans on continuing her mission.

"We hope it will be like a baby step to grow into something bigger like maybe it will influence other magazines to do the same thing [on] other pages and maybe even a cover," she said. "That would be really cool."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Internet Crackdown on Pro-Anorexia Sites YORK) -- Two years ago, when Madeleine Bowman began treatment for anorexia, she stopped looking at a pro-anorexia website that for years had served as her community and her source for ideas to nurture her secret illness.

But on Tuesday, she was curious and decided to take a look.  Fortunately, her login had expired.

Bowman 26, of New York, is in recovery from a decade-long battle with anorexia, she said.

She'd stumbled upon the website in eighth grade, after googling "eating disorders."  Bowman had been skipping meals to lose weight and she wanted to find out if she was anorexic.  She then visited the site often to find new ways to hide her condition from friends and family.

Given the many social aggregators that spread information to wider and wider audiences, Bowman says that today it would be even easier for someone to find their way to a pro-anorexia site.

However, that might not be the case for much longer.  In March, social sites like Tumblr, Facebook and Pinterest announced they will remove posts and website information that could promote eating disorders.

This move is one of many efforts that signal a shift in how the public views eating disorders, according to Claire Mysko, project manager of, a website that promotes awareness of eating disorders.

Mysko, who has worked in the field of eating disorders for more than a decade, said the stigma surrounding the disorder is decreasing.  More people are willing to talk about their problem, and more are willing to speak up against the unhealthy behavior, she said.

"There aren't as many who are feeling that ashamed," said Mysko.  "We're making progress in that area."

The shift in how eating disorders are viewed suggests that prevention and treatment efforts may be working.  Hospitalizations for people with eating disorders dropped 23 percent between 2007 and 2008, according to the latest findings from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  This decline was the first ever noted by the federal agency since it began tracking hospitalizations in 1999.

The drop, though, some experts say, may largely be due to the lack of insurance coverage on designated treatments for eating disorders, particularly hospitalizations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio