Health Team

Weight Loss Struggle Can Lead to Eating Disorders for Women

Posted January 8, 2007 2:19 p.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2007 4:16 p.m. EST

— Many people struggle with their weight. For some people, it can become an obsession that leads to life-threatening eating disorders. Nine out of 10 people with eating disorders are women.

Tish Lindberg said when she was in the seventh grade, she was a bit overweight and was suddenly self conscious. She said she decided to diet and lose weight, but it became an obsession.

"I decided I got tired of depriving myself and started eating and throwing up," Lindberg said.

Lindberg developed bulimia nervosa. It includes binge eating followed by purging.

"I'd cook pancakes for several hours, eat them and purge and go back and eat more," she said.

Lindberg traces it all back to her father who also had bulimia nervosa. He did not live with her or her mother while she was young, but she remembers visits with him.

"My dad was very vain. When I was overweight and in 7th grade, I didn't see him very often but he always harped at me to lose weight.," She said. "A few times I'd see him, he'd offer me money per pound for weight loss. So he instilled in me that same sense of, 'Well, the only way I was going to be loved was to be thin.'"

Lindberg said her weight obsession continued even into her marriage. She said she did not ever tell her husband about her ordeal.

"At age 30, I just decided it was time to quit," she said.

Bulimics might not look underweight, but it's the hallmark of another eating disorder, anorexia nervosa.

"Anorexia is when somebody is severely underweight and may have a fear of gaining weight," said UNC psychologist Dr. Jennifer Shapiro with the UNC Eating Disorders Clinic.

The diagnosis of anorexia nervosa comes when a person falls under the 85th percentile of what their weight should be. Their menstrual periods have stopped or they never started. They also have a distorted body image.

"Although they are very thin, they see themselves as overweight," Shapiro said.

Health experts said those with anorexia nervosa may take laxatives and diet pills to help themselves lose even more weight.

The UNC Eating Disorders Clinic offers comprehensive care from a team of specialists in areas like psychiatry, psychology and nutrition. It offers different levels of care that can range from weekly counseling to long hospital stays to help the patient restore their body as well as their mind.

Eating disorders patients learn that healthy eating is about balance, feeding the body what it needs, not just to survive but to thrive.

"But doing that in a way that there's not a fear of certain foods and there's not a fear of their appetite or your hunger cues," said Victoria Petrilli, a registered dietician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Those are lessons Lindberg had to learn on her own, at first, and then with professional help. Plus, it is something she implores others to seek.

"Seek help. It's nothing to be embarassed about. Be proud that you can reach out and ask for help for yourself," Lindberg said.