EL PASO, Texas — Sergio Guerra is not a person one would think is the typical sufferer of an eating disorder. When you see him, he is much bigger than your average-sized friend. But just because he is not thin, does not mean he does not suffer from this disease.
“It was one of my step-sisters. She got angry at me for taking one of her donuts. So she grabbed four massive bowls of food and made me eat everything. She told me that if I was going to be a pig, then I had to sit and eat all these enormous bowls of food. She sat there and watched me until everything was gone.”
When Sergio was 12, his life took a turn for the worse. It was the summer between his fifth- and sixth-grade year. He was graduating to the next step of his life, middle school. But he would not become the happy, outgoing kid one expects a child to be. Inside, he was torn. He was ashamed and hated himself for the person he was becoming, and thus began the long battle he continues to have with himself.
“I never tried to tell anyone. At that moment when my sister did that to me I felt like no one cared. My whole family was there and let her do that to me. Nobody stopped it. So why should I say anything?”
Being only 12 years old, this incident took a toll on his self-esteem. He felt hopeless, alone, and unloved. One donut had changed his life. This event eventually led to his use of food as a way to cope with his feelings.
“After that, every time I felt sad I would eat. I would eat past the point of feeling full until I could eat no more. Then I would feel disgusted with myself. I would feel so bad I would stop eating for two to three days. After that I would feel like myself again but my ability to gain weight was crazy.”
Eating disorders are usually associated with people who are severely thin, who do not eat or vomit their food. But now, severely obese, Sergio is at the biggest he has ever been. His life is in danger over something we all need to survive: food.
Adriana Rascon-Lopez, a licensed dietician who works at the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, suggests that binging is linked with obesity.
“Obesity goes hand-in-hand many times with binge eating disorders.” When someone has a binge eating disorder, he or she eats a lot of food but does not engage in self-induced vomiting. “What we see is that its not about giving someone a diet but treating the psychological reasons as to why someone is not eating, overeating, vomiting or preoccupied with their body image. ”
The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder and muscle dismorphia, according to Rascon-Lopez.[To learn what type of eating disorders exist click here]
Another person with eating disorder asked to remain anonymous. She considers herself to be a victim of all three of these types of eating disorders. She said that her distorted view of food began in her second year of college.
“I think my insecurities about school and my career is what brought this horrible disease upon me. I became depressed, stopped speaking to all my friends and isolated myself. I think I used my image as a way to cope. I guess I thought if I looked pretty on the outside things would be okay.”
But it did not help her make feel better.
“I ended up failing a lot of classes and missing a lot of school because of it which only made things worse. I was consumed with thoughts of my eating and couldn‘t concentrate on anything else. I felt like a huge failure. It’s been years now since I’ve felt like myself and wish I could turn back time and be the happy teenager I used to be and start my life over from there. I feel like I’m a different person now.”
Yet this woman and Sergio are not alone. Cerissa Cuellar, a recent graduate of UTEP suffered from an eating disorder for nearly ten years. Her illness was Bulimia Nervosa. She was 13 yrs old when her fight against being thin began.
“Growing up I always felt like the kid who developed faster than my peers. I also have a cousin who I‘ve grown up with who is naturally very thin. Being only 4 months apart, people were always comparing us and it had a negative effect on my self-esteem and self-image.
“I was always competing to outdo her in school, grades, and my appearance because everyone would always compare us. Then my breaking point was when a boy called me fat when I was a freshman in high school and I became obsessed about my weight which eventually led to me throwing up my food.”
But after help from doctors, a psychiatrist, therapy, a nutritionist, her family and now her fiancée, Cerissa was able to work through her stress and be okay with her body.
“Its still a work in progress but if I had not gotten help I’d probably be dead. My mom was the one person who really saved me. She never gave up on me even after I had given up on myself. I would have been lost without her.”
So what can cause an eating disorder?
Rascon-Lopez says that anything from self-esteem, child abuse, or an overly competitive person can develop an eating disorder. Even the need for attention can be a cause.
“Sometimes some sports have high numbers of athletes with eating disorders present in them like wrestling gymnastics, ballet, track, or boxing.” Many sports demand that the athlete loses weight and in some cases the coach and family put too much pressure on the athlete to lose weight. And without the proper guidance, the athlete then might choose dangerous diets to lose weight and later on develop an eating disorder, she says.
Marilyn Rotwein, UTEP’s Sports Dietician usually works with the UTEP athletes to insure that they are leading healthy lifestyles.
When dealing with a person who visits her office and is suffering from an eating disorder it is best not speak about their weight at all.
“When someone comes in, something you don’t do is talk to them about their weight. They might think that you are trying to make them gain weight or even think you are jealous. I just help them learn how to eat healthy and know what healthy eating is in order to help get them at that weight they need to be at,” Rotwein says.
Valerie Farrington a UTEP nurse practitioner and women and family specialist notes that many students do not go to the UTEP Health Center for help for eating disorders.
Eating disorders among students are often uncovered when they visit the health center for some other problem and through necessary background information on their health.
Farrington has had first-hand experience with eating disorders. Her children have suffered from the disease.
“It’s the messages society sends out about image. Celebrities are very thin and young girls look up to them and want to be like them. I would like to think that genetics are not a cause of it,” Farrington says.
What are the effects that this disease can have on a person and how harmful can it be?
Farrington, Rotwein and Rascon-Lopez have come to the same conclusion: death.
“One of the main problems with anorexia is heart disease because your heart is a muscle and your body goes through changes on electrolytes, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and blood pressure and pretty much you’re starving yourself to death,” Rascon-Lopez says.
“A good number of people who have anorexia die because their heart fails and stops working. There are some people that die in their sleep, die at the hospital or never make it to the hospital.
“With bulimia detrimental effects include gastriontestinal distress, reflux disease, ulcers, loss of teeth, and not to forget the psychological effects. Binge eating leads to obesity which leads to heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes,” Rascon-Lopez says.
So how can students be prevented from succumbing to eating disorders?
Rascon-Lopez says in order to prevent eating disorders we need to get to them before they begin.
“We see that the age groups mostly affected by eating disorders are late high school and early college students. So if we intervene in the junior or senior year of high school or in early college years than that would be an excellent way of prevention.
“In general we can see that this is the age when there is a change in life from being an adolescent to a young adult, there’s a lot of peer pressure there, or social media like magazines and T.V.”
Models in the magazines are size zeros and famous actresses suffering from eating disorders are often in the news and sometimes we want to emulate these people’s lives.
We need to give students messages about healthy eating, healthy exercising, how to deal with stress or psychological issues that might be causing this stress and call attention to some of the red flags of eating disorder.
Talking more about it, having it more on the news and more articles about it, having more studies A good program here at the University within our Student Health Center could definitely be a way to prevent eating disorders,” Rascon-Lopez says.
“We need to promote help for eating disorders,” Rascon-Lopez said. “There are studies being done here at the University to see if there is a need to come up with a prevention program within our University.”
One recent obstacle to prevention of eating disorders are pro-ana websites. These websites include social groups where people suffering with an eating disorder teach each other ways to stay thin. They even include pictures of thin celebrities or pictures of bone-thin people and refer to these pictures as “thinspiration”.
Rascon-Lopez feels as if these websites would help as a kind of warning for others to know that those kinds of sites are available to people and its good for parents to know that these exist. “These messages that these websites offer can feed into our brains of what we should look like and there is not enough supervision from parents.”
To review eating disorder stats click here: