Battling an Eating Disorder: When Bulimia Becomes a True
American Idol Sized Problem
By Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP,
In a People Magazine article, American Idol contestant Katherine
McPhee disclosed that she has secretly suffered from bulimia for the past
five years. It was her success in television’s American Idol competition
that inspired her to come forward and get help to recover from her
life-threatening eating disorder.
Katherine, a vocalist who at her worst
point was self-inducing vomiting up to seven times a day, claimed that she
realized her bulimic behaviors were “equivalent to taking a sledgehammer to
her throat” and brought herself to treatment.
Glamorizing Eating Disorder Illnesses? Or Becoming an Invaluable Role
Some may think when celebrities like Katherine come forward with such
problems it only “glamorizes” the illness and encourages dysfunction in
impressionable young people. In reality, some impressionable youngsters may
respond by engaging in self-destructive experimentation, but for the most
part, the responses of people like Katherine McPhee provide invaluable role
modeling for fans.
Though statistics show that 1 percent of young females in this country
suffer with bulimia, the numbers most likely do not reflect the enormity of
the problem, as bulimia is among the most frequently missed diagnoses. Only
a minority of people with eating disorders, especially with bulimia nervosa,
are treated in mental healthcare.
A problem cannot be solved until it is recognized. In coming forward as
she has, McPhee has displayed the courage and intention to achieve her
dreams, to become proactive in making her life as healthy, gratified and
fulfilled as it can be. Despite the widely held misconception that “once
eating disordered, always eating disordered,” eating disorders are fully
curable in 80 percent of cases where recognized early and treated
effectively. In her forthright and courageous stand, this American Idol
contestant has become a true American idol.
Uncovering the Secrets of Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa: The Most
Lethal Mental Health Disorders
The most lethal of all the metal health disorders, bulimia nervosa and
anorexia nervosa are extremely hard to recognize. Highly secretive diseases,
they rarely show up in doctors’ offices during physical or functional
assessments; even laboratory tests do not show evidence of eating disorders
until they are in their most advanced stages. By their nature
counterintuitive, eating disorders typically give victims a pseudo-sense of
power and control, creating the illusion of feeling and becoming “better
In fact, certain stages of recovery feel more precarious and painful than
does the disease itself. Making matters even more confusing, many of the
symptoms of these lethal disorders lay somewhere along the continuum of
normal human behaviors. Who doesn’t overeat, under-eat, or engage in
emotional or social eating at times?
Eating disorders, which essentially represent an abuse of food in an
effort to resolve emotional problems, transcend a dysfunctional relationship
with food to represent the tip of a physical, emotional, cognitive,
behavioral and social iceberg, with early signs of clinical eating disorders
typically evident in diverse life spheres.
8 signs that parents and families may see at home, around the dinner
table, in the family bathroom, or the child’s bedroom:
- Erratic eating, eating too much or too little, too frequently or too
- Dieting and other restrictive eating behaviors (in some instances,
vegetarianism or skipping meals) that can result in extreme hunger and
gorging, irregular menstrual periods.
- Fear of putting on weight, with an all-encompassing preoccupation
with food and eating that can account for as much as 80 percent of an
- Hiding food, and feeling shame and guilt after eating it. The
refusal to eat in the company of others.
- Depressive moods
- Various forms of purging, including self-induced vomiting, excessive
exercising, laxative, diuretic, or Ipecac abuse
- Disappearances into the bathroom during or following meals
- Impulsive, immoderate and out of control behaviors beyond the
realm of eating, that might include shop lifting, promiscuity, cutting,
engaging in chaotic relationships, abuse of substances such as drugs,
alcohol, nicotine, diet pills, etc.
There is nothing passive about eating disorders. Always on the move, they
are either getting better or (you can be certain) they are getting worse.
Eating disorder recovery can be a long-term process, requiring input from a
diverse team of professionals including physicians, psychotherapists, family
therapists, nutritionists, psycho pharmacologists and school counselors.
The course of recovery will be as variable, must be as comprehensive, and
in many ways will feel as convoluted, as the course of disease. It typically
combines outpatient and inpatient treatment milieus and diverse treatment
modes. Victims of eating disorders, as young as age 5 or as old as 60, male
or female, individuals alone, or living within the context of a supportive
or not so supportive family system, need help to recognize, accept and
conquer these diseases… They need this help so they can become capable of
reclaiming their lives, proactively, with steadfast commitment The need to
fight the good fight for life and life quality.
About the Author:
Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP, psychotherapist, has specialized in
the treatment of eating disorders for the past 36 years. She is the author
When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-By-Step Workbook for Parents
and Other Caregivers, (Jossey Bass Publishers) and director of
Eating Disorder Specialists of Illinois.
Abigail is available to support the role of parents and family as
advocates for recovery. She will answer your questions about eating
disorders, so you understand their prevention and treatment.
As a Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, Abigail is on the cutting
edge of combining traditional psychotherapy with this potent holistic
adjunct body technique to enhance body-and self-image healing. For more free
resources and information, or to have Abigail speak at your next parental or
professional group, go to