Eating disorders are more prevalent today than 10 or 20 years ago, partially because of more awareness of the disorders, more willingness to seek help and more emphasis on weight, body image and dieting, according to two local registered dietitians.
“Twenty-seven years ago when I started out, I didn’t see any eating disorders. It just wasn’t out there,” said Carol Banister, a local dietitian and owner of Carol Banister & Associates. Half of Banister’s clientele today are patients with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating or compulsive eating problems. She began to see eating disorders about 20 years ago; it has gradually increased since then.
JuliAnn Marzuola, a registered and licensed dietitian and a licensed professional counselor who specializes in eating disorders, said the prevalence also has to do with the media, particularly Internet media.
“In my practice, 13 seems to be the pivotal age because there’s a ‘perfect storm’ setting up in a young girl’s life at that time,” Marzuola said. “The body changes, the peer group changes. They can’t quite tell what their bodies are going to end up looking like,” she said.
Eating disorders aren’t exclusive to girls in their teens and early 20s; Marzuola has treated boys as young as 8; Banister’s youngest patient with an eating disorder was a third grader, although she’s had patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
“Besides parents, teachers and coaches are the ones most likely to pick up on any of the warning signs and symptoms that something might be going wrong,” Marzuola said.
The best way to address a potential problem is to first talk with a family doctor, Banister suggested.
Symptoms to watch for include a fear of fatness, distorted thoughts about size and shape of body, dramatic weight loss, avoiding food-related social activities, wearing really baggy clothes, personality changes including withdrawal, changing appearances over a brief period of time, playing with food a lot at the table, and offering excuses for not wanting to eat in front of others, including family, Marzuola and Banister said.