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    The following frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers are provided to assist people who are confronted with eating disorders, either personally or through friends or loved ones. Since knowledge is power to helpful minds, hopefully the basic answers below will assist you in helping someone start to recover. Therefore, we offer our book The Spark of Life Trilogy to assist people with the more detailed aspects of the recovery process. It provides the unique positive therapeutic perspective from a support person who created a successful recovery plan for his mate's anorexia and bulimia. Our intent is to shorten both recovery time and cost. In any event, please remember that each recovery starts with real desire to begin.

Questions and Answers

1. What are eating disorders (ED)? Basically, both anorexia and bulimia are like bad habits that have become ingrained in the afflicted's personality as witnessed by persistent negative eating behaviors such as starvation, binging, and purging. Lack of parental approval, parental criticism, peer critcism, significant other (e.g., spouse or lover) disapproval, societal/media emphasis on thin as beautiful (and happy), a general outer directed disposition, lack of self-esteem, and inactivity are sometimes responsible for creating these negative behaviors.

2. What is the main cause of ED? Eating disorders are somewhat mysterious in developing. Low self-esteem is definitely a prime causative agent. Probably, the stress in excelling at some activity and the resulting disapproval or criticism by friends or family is involved. This criticism in less vulnerable people would be mostly dismissed, but in very outer-directed ED people it is devastating and lowers their self-esteem considerably. Generally, the family environment has been rigid when reinforcing their members' achievements. For example, a young girl finishes second in a 10-K race and her family inappropriately says, "you can do better next time" rather than very positively saying, "we are very proud of you training so hard and finishing second of one hundred runners." Although this is just one instance, such events pile up over the course of time. Most positive, sincere efforts in life need to be reinforced or encouraged such that further effort and self-esteem is enhanced. Doing meaningful things, having them positively reinforced to encourage further doing and to build self-esteem, and operating more from the inside out than the outside in can make a big difference in avoiding ED.

3. Who is most vulnerable to having an ED? Inactive people who are not positively reinforced, have low initial self-esteem, and rely on others or the media to form self-opinion are most vulnerable to ED. Having family and friends who do not appropriately praise and encourage at regular intervals also creates vulnerability. Absent reinforcing family or friends, people may have to "self-reinforce" themselves. For example, after every exam for which you prepare to the best of your ability, you should celebrate in some enjoyable fashion. The results are irrelevant at the celebration point because the effort was properly given. This process becomes self-perpetuating and the momentum builds upon itself, leading to further academic successes. There is much too little appropriate praise provided these days. Thus, a lot of people get lost in the funk of drugs and/or risky sex to fill the void in their self-esteems. People need to feel good about doing meaningful things to actually feel good about themselves. Some meaningful tasks involve using the rational mind more than others. For example, deciding on a career through much comparative research would be more meaningful than walking two miles. Examples where rational thought is used more than one may think include: figuring out how to emotionally support a senior citizen or older family member; deciding how to nurture and discipline young children; rationally discussing how to improve your relationship with a significant other person in your life; etc. All accomplishment is important, but that which leads you to use your rational mind to make decisions will help best in controlling healthy eating behaviors. Without rational control, ED sufferers irrationally binge, purge, and deny food. They lose control of basic functions in life.

4. Can a pill cure ED? Oh, how we wish that were true! Unfortunately, ED cannot be resolved by merely taking an anti-depressant pill because that would treat a symptom and not the main cause. People can feel less depressed by taking anti-depressants, but they will not overcome these behavioral disorders by just taking a pill. We have observed this process first hand. There is tough therapeutic work to be done in recognizing feelings, enhancing self-esteem, and regaining rational control over one's life processes, including eating.

5. Has the media played a role in influencing ED? If so, how? The media is a control mechanism of the heads of industry that tries to make us think a certain way or buy a certain product. They try to control our minds. Outer-directed ED sufferers are most vulnerable because they place far more importance on what society/media supposedly thinks than on what they think on their own. They are rarely inner-directed, which involves coming from the inside out and not caring what others think. These inside out people used to be called "rugged individualists." There are not too many of these people left. Most people follow the trends. So, ED sufferers should not beat themselves up for being one of the herd. The problem is that given the ED sufferers' circumstances with lower self-esteem and poor reinforcement of meaningful accomplishments, such herd mentality leaves them quite vulnerable to worsening ED.

6. Is beauty portrayed in a negative form in the media today? If so, explain the effect on ED sufferers? Beauty is really in the eyes of the beholder. The media is neither negative nor positive in portraying beauty. It does have a bent toward portraying thinness as beautiful and happy. But once again, it depends on who is processing the information. The very vulnerable outer-directed ED sufferer unfortunately seems to take this thinness concept as gospel. As anorexics progress further into their disorders, they become impossible to tell what "thin" really means even though they may weigh 65 pounds at 5'6". The mind becomes confused with lack of nutrition and therein lies major danger for acute anorexics. The media should not be blamed. The media merely functions to sell people ideas, services, or goods. That is the way it is. What needs to change is how vulnerable people interpret what message the media puts out.

7. What would be a positive approach to trying to prevent ED? The biggest change people can make to prevent ED is to treat people for "who they are" (based on what they have done) rather than on "what they look like" (based on genetic inheritance and various habits). Some people will never be thin, but they can be happy by filling their life up with meaningful accomplishments (e.g., good education, enjoyable job, family with kids, spiritual peace, giving to others, etc.). It is impossible to change society quickly, so a sufferer should realistically focus on family and friends. Surround oneself with people who make you feel good about being you. These helpful people occasionally compliment, encourage, or reinforce "your activities." Notice we did not write "your appearance." If your family is rigid and critical, learn to self-reinforce or find friends that reinforce your efforts in life. And make sure to take The Risks to Be, and thereby stay actively accomplishing.

8. How can someone determine if they may have an eating disorder? Both disorders are very secretive. There is much fear of discovery and guilt of performing negative eating behaviors. Anorexia is easier to diagnose than bulimia in most instances. And always remember that a medical doctor or specializing therapist is the best person to diagnose ED. However, given the desire for secretive behavior, sufferers may avoid this needed intervention until a critical state has been achieved. In anorexia, obvious loss of weight below 80% of the ideal weight for more than two weeks is extremely strong evidence given the lack of another wasting medical condition. We have provided a cautionary automatic method to noninvasively determine possible anorexia on our diagnosis page. Please understand that this is a mere convenience and always should be confirmed by a medical doctor and/or therapist. Other examples of anorexic behaviors could include excessive food management (e.g., cutting food into tiny pieces), excessive exercise, increased laxative and vomiting agent usage, wearing heavier clothing due to lower body temperature, obsessing about thinness, binging, purging, and starvation.

9. What can be done to change these very negative disordered eating behaviors? Before anything can happen, the afflicted has to want to make the change. This could come from a bottoming out (or conversion) experience whereby the afflicted becomes so tired or overwhelmed by their disorder that they decide to change. Some tough love of support people might have to be applied to encourage this conversion, realizing that the health of the afflicted must always be carefully monitored. Such conversion provides the best foundation to start therapy. If an afflicted enters therapy primarily because someone else wants them to, then therapy may be less effective and resources can dwindle. Initially, therapy should familiarize the afflicted with the feelings of guilt and fear that are important in establishing these disorders. Next, therapy should help the afflicted understand self and external reinforcement, progressive meaningful accomplishments, eventual rational control, and other appropriate topics. Surprisingly, the solutions to these disorders lie within each afflicted individual. It seems as simple as changing a bad behavior to a good one. However, if you have ever tried to give up smoking or overeating, then you will know just how difficult achieving this seemingly simple behavioral change can really be. Always remember that the afflicted can recover by persistently striving to change using knowledge, support, therapeutic process, and meaningful accomplishment to enhance self-esteem and gain rational control of their lives. Truly, a "spark of life" will be felt when the afflicted starts feeling better about who they are.

10. What can a support person, friend or spouse, do to help an ED sufferer recover? Realize that you are the key part of the helping team, including a medical doctor and an experienced therapist. The complexity of ED requires a team approach to resolve its many facets. Since you are probably not being paid to help, the purity of your concern will be eventually appreciated on some important level by the ED sufferer. And the joy of providing a friend or loved one the chance to reclaim a healthy life will be perpetually rewarding. Also, your gentle but persistent encouragement may result in the sufferer actually starting the recovery process. Most importantly, be persistently positive in dealing with the afflicted. Make no criticism of the negative eating behaviors. Do not force the afflicted into medical treatment or therapy unless he/she is severely anorexic and in failing health. Generally, allow the sufferer the space to enter therapy on his/her own free will. Make sure you are there to provide helpful options for a confused ED sufferer. You may use our diagnosis page to establish possible anorexic tendency in explaining your desire to help. Know which family doctor to initially contact, which therapist has had the most local successes treating ED, the general therapeutic process, your part in that therapy (e.g., externally reinforcing meaningful deeds), and maintain the persistent belief that the ED sufferer will eventually get better with some focused hard work. Indeed, we are selling our book The Spark of Life Trilogy at cost so that you may thoroughly understand the recovery process in detail from the perspective of both the sufferer and the supporter. Realistically, we want every sufferer to recover as quickly, completely, and cost effectively as possible.

Note: There will be additional questions and answers added in the future. If you have a question that you would like us to consider answering on this page, please email us. You must realize that we provide the most comprehensive answers possible to these complex questions within the limitations of an FAQ web page. Indeed, many books have been written on one of these questions alone. Our Trilogy answers them all in proper detail and clarity.

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