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Archive for Sunday, April 17, 2005

Eating disorders can turn deadly

Former bulimic says Schiavo case serves as wake-up call

April 17, 2005

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— Lost amid the controversy over Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and the recriminations surrounding her recent death is the heightened awareness of eating disorders.

Medical records suggest Schiavo's condition was caused by bulimia and a severe potassium imbalance in her blood, which led to cardiac arrest and brain damage.

"The most important message -- and which hasn't gotten the press -- is that all of this came about because of her apparent eating disorder," said Joanna Popper, a Miami Beach documentarian who was bulimic for eight years until she sought help from a therapist.

"I didn't want to live like that anymore," said Popper, 32, who along with Arne Zimmermann, coproduced the new video, "The ABC's of Eating Disorders: The Documentary."

"So many eating disorders start as a little diet and ... turn into deadly habits. Here was a beautiful woman who went down this path, not able to deal with the emotions going on in her life. So many people out there also are caught up in this emotional battle and don't know how to deal with what is going on in their life. They don't see that it's going to be such a big deal."

It's treated, she said, like "an accelerated diet."

Nearly 10 million women and 1 million men are affected by anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and an additional 25 million suffer from a binge eating disorder, according to the Seattle-based National Eating Disorders Assn.

Moreover, eating disorders are hitting younger girls -- including the preteen set -- and more men. An April 2001 report in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Assn. said one male suffered from anorexia for every four females; for bulimia -- it's one male for every eight to 11 females.

But eating disorders are seldom covered by medical insurance, a reality Popper and the association feel should be a wake-up call in the wake of Schiavo.

Popper says shame often keeps victims from seeking help.

"If there were less shame, better insurance, involved for people with eating disorders, many people would 'come out' faster and get help," said Popper, who became bulimic at 21.

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