The Herald, Sharon, PA Published Sunday, Feb. 13, 2000


Local families dealing with eating disorders

By Carley M. Koscinski
Herald Writer

“No matter what it takes, I won’t let her die from this terrible disease. I’ll find a doctor. I’ll find a cure. I won’t let my beautiful daughter die.”

Those sentiments might be close to the hearts of millions of parents dealing with daughters who have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or a related eating disorder.

Becoming increasingly common over the last 20 years, eating disorders have escalated to epidemic levels in the United States. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, close to 7 million American females and 1 million American males suffer from some form of an eating disorder. And there is no cure for those devastating illnesses. Anorexia and bulimia are the most common eating disorders. Anorexia is self-starvation; bulimia involves binge eating, followed by forced vomiting.

ANAD is promoting awareness of the diseases through Friday during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

In 1983, millions of Americans mourned the death of pop artist Karen Carpenter. Weakened from years of starving herself, Carpenter died at the age of 32 due to heart complications related to a long battle with anorexia.

Opening the nation’s eyes to the seriousness of this progressive, puzzling illness, Carpenter’s death sparked awareness, research and education related to the development, causes and treatment of anorexia and related eating disorders.

But the problem has worsened since Carpenter’s death, ANAD says. Debbie Monsora, a nurse therapist, co-leads an eating disorder support group that meets twice a month at Sharon Regional Health System’s Behavioral Health Services office. Developed in January 1999, the support group was designed not only as a support network for sufferers of eating disorders, but also for their family members and friends.

“We typically have three to five people attend the support groups,” said Ms. Monsora. The group for family members is held on the second Wednesday of each month, and the group for those who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month.

“Although the groups remain relatively small, those who attend really seem to get a lot out of the support groups,” said Ms. Monsora.

She said anorexia is sometimes viewed as a glamorous disease and often is referred to as “the disease of the models and stars” because of the media’s focus and idolization of ultra-thin actresses and models. Ms. Monsora said that although many actresses and models do indeed develop eating disorders, Hollywood and New York City are not the only environments that breed anorexia and bulimia.

“Eating disorders are widespread, lingering in nearly every community in the nation, and our community is no different,” said Ms. Monsora. “Our hope is that the current group membership will remain steady and that the number of new members will continue to grow.

“Eating disorders are prevalent in the Shenango Valley. Support, coupled with continual therapy, is the only way to begin recovering from an eating disorder, so I encourage new members to take advantage of this service.”

A local high school student, who asked that her name not be published, plummeted to weights as low as 63 pounds and has required extensive inpatient treatment at Western Psychiatric in Pittsburgh.

She has been hospitalized on three separate occasions since she was diagnosed with anorexia in May 1995.

She described her intense fear of gaining weight: “The doctors want me to weigh between 115 and 118 pounds, but right now I am hovering just below 100. To me, 115 means I’m fat. It means I am not good enough. Being thin is part of my identity. Staying at a low weight somehow feels comforting to me,” she said.

According to Ms. Monsora, the typical anorexic patient is a perfectionist who often clings to her disease as a way of maintaining a sense of control.

The young woman agreed. “The only thing I feel like I have total control over is my weight,” she said. “In other areas of my life I have some control, but with my weight and eating I have all the control and power. It is very hard for me to imagine what my life would be like without anorexia, so I just exist with it.”

Because most people think of eating as a natural part of life, Ms. Monsora said, sometimes anorexia and bulimia can be very difficult for family members and friends to understand. A local teen-ager whose sister is anorexic acknowledged his feelings of confusion related to his sister’s struggle. “The hardest thing for me is to watch my sister try to deal with it, because no matter how hard she tries, it always comes back. My sister has so much going for her — she’s smart, pretty, petite, creative and caring. It is hard for me to understand why she can’t see what I see.” The treatment of anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia is often extremely expensive. A large percentage of patients require extensive medical monitoring and treatment, and many sufferers require repeated hospitalizations.

According to ANAD, the cost of inpatient treatment can be $30,000 or more per month, and the cost of outpatient care, including therapy and medical monitoring, can extend to $10,000 or more a month.

Since 86 percent of those who develop eating disorders do so by the age of 20, Ms. Monsora said, it is crucial for parents and educators to be aware of the warning signs associated with both anorexia and bulimia.

Common warning signs for anorexia nervosa include deliberate self-starvation, severe weight loss, excessive facial and body hair due to inadequate protein in diet, compulsive exercising, loss of menstrual cycle, sensitivity to low temperatures, hair loss and dry skin due to dehydration. Common warning signs of bulimia nervosa include preoccupation with food; binge eating, usually in secret; vomiting after binge eating; abuse of laxatives and/or diuretics; compulsive exercising; broken blood vessels in the eyes; and swollen salivary glands.

Physical repercussions from one or both of the disorders include malnutrition, dehydration, heart, kidney and liver damage, tears in the esophagus, intestinal ulcers, ruptured stomach and gum and tooth erosion.

For more information on development, causes and treatment of eating disorders, visit ANAD’s Web site at: or call (847) 831-3438. For information regarding the support group offered through Sharon Regional Behavioral Health Services, call 983-5454.

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