Upper woman seeks to end isolation for eating disorder sufferers

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Ja’net Carlos Ja’net Carlos

Ja’net Carlos wants people with eating disorders to know that they are not alone despite the lack of support groups and medical professionals who specialize in the diseases in the Cape May Atlantic County area.

To that end, she is hoping to start a group online that deals with eating disorders and allows members to share their stories, feelings and concerns and develop a feeling of community among those in the South Jersey area who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other eating disorders.

“I would like to eventually invite those who join the online group to get together from time to time to discuss issues that affect all of us,” Carlos said.

She includes herself in that group, having suffered from anorexia since the age of 8.

“Thirty years later, I am still working toward recovery,” she said.

Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss and some variations can include use of laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), in the United States 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.

Carlos said thoughts of worthlessness, insecurity and isolation began in grade school and continued through high school and eventually reached their worst about three years ago.

“Anorexia is really insidious because the lack of nutrition eventually affects your thinking processes and that causes more thoughts that exacerbate the disease,” she explained.

Other effects of the disease are triggers that can cause problems for those with eating disorders.

“A trigger can be someone saying something that they think is helpful, but to the anorexic, it is interpreted as ‘they think I’m disgusting.’ The whole thought process spirals downward from there,” Carlos explained.

Eating disorders can isolate sufferers, Carlos said, because friends and family don’t know what to say, are afraid to offer dinner or party invitations, even strangers make comments or whisper when making a trip to the store.

“I overheard someone at the supermarket whispering to the person they were with about my appearance. For the anorexic, that can be devastating,” she said.

Just watching television can cause crippling anxiety for someone with an eating disorder.

“Media of all types, but especially television, bombard watchers or readers with images, stories and commercials about losing weight and what is the ideal body shape or size. Those things can really affect the way someone views themselves, especially kids and teens.”

Throwing away the scale is one solution Carlos suggests.

“When I get weighed at the doctor’s office, I don’t look at the scale and ask that the number not be said aloud. If you have a scale at home, throw it out. Life is about healthy eating, not dieting.”

Carlos has overcome much of the shyness about her condition and often brings up the subject when she gets an idea that someone may be looking at her and wondering what is wrong.

“It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I feel like it’s better to get it out in the open and talk about it. Who knows, it may help someone who is suffering in silence,” Carlos said.

Talking about an eating disorder is important. Early diagnosis can make a big difference.

If not discovered early, the disease can seriously affect the health of the sufferer, said Carlos.

NEDA reports that in anorexia cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in: abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower; reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones; muscle loss and weakness; severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure; fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness; dry hair and skin; hair loss or a growth of a downy layer of hair—called lanugo—all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

A review of nearly 50 years of research confirms that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

For females 15 to 24 who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.

The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Health consequences include: electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride from the body as a result of purging behaviors; potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing; inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting; tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting; chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse; peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity, including: high blood pressure; high cholesterol levels; heart disease as a result of elevated triglyceride levels; Type II diabetes and gallbladder disease.

Carlos

In her effort to get people with eating disorders some help and to try and end the isolation that comes with the disease, Carlos has set up a few places where their voices can be heard. One is Facebook, where Carlos administers the page South Jersey Eating Disorder Support Group; just go to the page and ask to join. The other is Eating Disorder Support Meetup at meetups.com.

“I am not a licensed professional, however I have a ton of information and resources that I would love to share. Our eating disorders do not define us. For a long time it defined who I thought I was. There is no reason to struggle in silence. We can help each other.”

Carlos can also be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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