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“It was not until my bones started hurting me that I realized exactly what that meant,” says a student

Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders expert talks physcial and psychological effects of anorexia and bulimia to students

By Angela Ison

Mar. 3, 2011

The Mareyjoyce Green Women’s Center, formerly known as the Womens’ Center, at Cleveland State University held a discussion forum on Feb 24. Claire Boyette McCullough, coordinator of the adolescent program at the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders, led the discussion.

The discussion was held in an informal and laid-back environment, which allowed participants’ to share their intimate experiences with eating disorders.
“I am pretty casual,” McCullough said in her southern accent. “I sit around on the floor all day with adolescents.”

Originally from Shelby, North Carolina, McCullough moved to Ohio with her boyfriend from Ohio and finished her masters in mental health counseling from the University of Cincinnati.

McCullough and a few audience members who worked in the MareyJoyce Green Women’s Center anxiously waited for more people to show up as the clock struck 12.

By the time the discussion began at 12:05, there was a diverse mix of people, both young and old sitting at round tables listening to McCullough discuss the two most common diagnoses of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia is defined primarily as a loss of a lot of body weight. Someone who is suffering from this disorder restricts his or her caloric intake and has a distorted body image.

“Someone with anorexia may weigh very little, but when they look in the mirror they feel or see themselves as heavy,” McCullough said.

Loss of periods is a symptom of anorexia found in girls who do not get enough iron or vitamins in their diet.

“This can affect bone density,” McCullough said. Low bone density causes your spine to hunch over and bones to break easily.

Many post sufferers recap their own experiences and struggle with eating disorders.

“I was happy to lose my period,” said a student who did not want to be identified. “It was not until my bones started hurting me that I realized exactly what that meant.”The misconception of bulimia, or binge eating, is that it’s people who are running around, skipping meals and then they eat a large meal before they go to bed or when they get time.

Bulimia is “Loss of control when one eats a large amount of food…like boxes or cartons of food,” McCullough explained.

Yet, bulimia is self-induced vomiting called purging and compensatory behaviors like exercising a lot.

“When I was younger, I remember eating three meals a day at the table with my family,” said an older gentleman in the audience who asked to remain anonymous. “I do not remember hearing of any eating disorders then.”

“One of the largest protective factors is eating family meals,” McCullough said.

Individuals with eating disorders or who have a biological disposition, passed down from family members, to develop an eating disorder usually have very rigid personalities, McCullough said.

“When I interview teens on how they were prior to developing an eating disorder, they were very academically driven and viewed as perfectionists,” said McCullough talking about her communication strategy.

According to McCullough, eating disorders generally develop between the age of 13-17.

A low heart rate is one of the more serious medical consequences of an eating disorder.

“A young person walking around should have a pulse between 70s and 80s,” McCullough said. “A young woman I was working with had a pulse of 40, which fell to 33 overnight.”

A person with a pulse that low is considered to be actively dying because the body does not have enough fuel in it to function properly, so the heart slows down in efforts to conserve energy.

You’re starving your brain as well. Someone with an eating disorder cannot focus on anything other than his or her disorder.
McCullough asked a student in her program what percentage of her thoughts were about her eating disorder. “100 percent of my thoughts are about my eating disorder,”

McCullough repeated of the students response.

“I did not realize what I was doing to my teeth until my parents took me to the dentist and most of my teeth had already rotted away,” said a student who asked to remain anonymous.

Yet, “generally you can’t just look at someone and see that they have an eating disorder,” McCullough said.

Disordered eating, where you eat a lot every couple of days or restrict every couple of days, is often mistaken as an eating disorder but disordered eating has no psychological effect like an eating disorder does McCullough said.

The most common misconception of eating disorders is they only affect women.

“20-30 percent of individuals with eating disorders are men,” McCullough said. “Sometimes guys are more ill than women when we get them because no one looks for it in men.”

Wrestling, swimming, gymnastics and jockeys are the sport’s most commonly associated with eating disorders because athletes must maintain a certain weight.

“I had to call a principal one time because the wrestling coach was encouraging purging and use of laxatives to make weight,” McCullough said.

In response to a few curious audience members, McCullough said, “Obesity is not an eating disorder because disorders are something that impairs one’s functioning and obesity does not.”

The core message of the forum was eating disorders are curable.

McCullough is working with the Maudsley treatment approach to eating disorders in her dissertation at Kent State for her Ph.D in Counseling and Human Development Services.

In the past, the development of eating disorders were blamed on parents and family units, yet the Maudsley approach views parents as the biggest factor of success.

“We only treat adolescents if parents are 100 percent involved,” McCullough said.

With the Maudsley approach, parents have complete control over the food and students are often kept out of school in efforts for the parents to monitor what they eat and how often they exercise or vomit.

“One of the teens in the program slept in the bed between her parents for months because she would get up and exercise in the middle of the night, ” McCullough said of the measures parents take to monitor their children.

When confronting family and friends who have an eating disorder, “it’s really a delicate dance,” McCullough said. “Biggest thing is addressing it quickly and getting treatment.”

Currently, there is no medical insurance to treat eating disorders, McCullough said.