EMA Care Blog

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Eating Disorders during the gap year

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Eating Disorders

10 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder.  It is the third most common and chronic illness in the U.S.  More women than men suffer from this illness, and while the numbers are climbing in the Jewish population, the exact number of Jewish people with eating disorders is unknown.

Most people know about two eating disorders:  anorexia and bulimia.  Not known to most people, the most common eating disorder is actually EDNOS –  or “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.”  Here is a short description of the three:

  1. Anorexia- A disorder in which an individual refuses to maintain minimally normal body weight, intensely fears to gain weight, and does not see their real body shape or size.
  2. Bulimia- A disorder in which a person binges on food followed by behavior, such as extreme exercise, purging, and the use of laxatives—all to prevent weight gain.
  3. EDNOS- This is a combination of anorexia and bulimia. A person may stop eating, then binge and purge. An individual may also binge eat, not purge, and then not eat for a day.

EMA Care wants parents, teachers, and school administrators to recognize some of the more common signs of an eating disorder:

1) Restricting food intake. This may happen at the same time that the student is cooking and baking a lot for others.

2) Misperceived body image. The student complains about being fat but looks fine.  Many teenagers do this routinely, which would have to be combined with other behaviors or exaggerated perceptions.

3) Sudden weight loss.  Generally speaking, a weight loss of 10lb (4.5 kilos) is considered a danger sign for people who are not trying to lose weight.  If a student’s clothes are no longer fitting them, if they appear gaunt – it’s a sign of substantial weight loss.  Weight loss can cause hair to become dull and thin, increased acne, and generally an unhealthy appearance.

4) Reluctance to show their body.  Because of #2 & #3, students suffering from eating disorders hide their bodies by wearing baggy clothes, not showering, or changing where others may see them.

5) Mouth sores and dental problems.  Acid from purging often results in these problems.

6) Depression.  Eating disorders are mental health problems, and depressive symptoms are associated with these disorders.

7)  Rituals.  People with eating disorders tend to develop rituals regarding their food, such as not letting the fork tines touch their mouths.  These teens may spend an unreasonable amount of time in the bathroom, either purging or with other rituals.

8) Manipulating others.  A common theme is telling people in the lunchroom that they will eat in their dorm room, telling people in their dorm room that they already ate, or lying about what they eat – people with eating disorders try to control their environment by manipulating those around them. If a student has some constipation medication and “runs out” because she has misused it.

 Don’t ignore the signs! Ideally, a person with an eating disorder should be treated as early as possible.  The earlier the treatment begins, the easier it will be to gain control over the disorder.

Control is the keyword.  Most individuals with an eating disorder will tell you it began because they wanted to control their lives. They wanted to be happier, prettier, better liked, and in charge.  Like coming to Israel, away from home for the first time, any type of transition may trigger a feeling of loneliness and insecurity.  What ends up happening is the disorder takes control over their life! The eating disorder becomes an addiction.

Eating disorders are dangerous!!

In the short term, a lack of nutrition can result in low blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.  Not eating makes it more difficult for the brain to work.  People become foggy and apathetic. Eating disorders are a major reason why gap year students leave before the end of the year.

In the long term, eating disorders cause fertility problems.  A client of ours with infertility previously had bulimia. 

Treatment for eating disorders involves a medical evaluation and treatment, a nutritionist, and a therapist. Without appropriate treatment, eating disorders can be fatal.

If your child has an eating disorder and is coming to Israel, you must alert the administration to the issue even if your child has completed treatment. It is in your child’s best interest to have the administration be on the lookout for a relapse. It could be the difference between life and death!

If you have concerns and would like your child to get treatment in Israel or continue treatment that has been started, EMA Care is here for you.  We can arrange appointments with a doctor, nutritionist, and therapist. 

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