Monday, November 3, 2008

Eating Disorders, Cancerous Killers

By Nichole Giles

I recently did a book review for Haley Hatch Freeman, who at the tender age of fifteen, nearly died of anorexia. This book, “A Future for Tomorrow,” really made me think about eating disorders. Haley was an extreme case, but the problem started out small. The psychological effects grew inside her like a tumor, which spread out and became severely physical with such speed that in a matter of six months, her weight loss caused her bones to bruise her skin, and her brain and other vital organs to shut down.

According to Internet websites, (listed at the bottom of this article) approximately .5-3.7% of women will suffer from anorexia at some point in their lives. This statistic doesn’t include men, and the same sources claim one out of every ten people suffering an eating disorder are men. Also take into account that another 1% of the population suffers from the equally dangerous bulimia.

People with either of these diseases have an intense fear of gaining weight. Those suffering from anorexia severely limit their food intakes until they lose an unnatural amount of body fat and muscle. People with bulimia often binge eat—taking in an amount of food that far exceeds normal food intake—and then purge the calories by forcing themselves to throw up or by taking laxatives or other diuretics before the food can be digested.

Both diseases affect both the body and the mind, beginning from a psychological issue, such as depression or anxiety, and becoming a way of gaining control of issues like low self-esteem, weight loss, and stress. They start as a cycle of either severe starvation and unnecessary exercise, or binging and purging that becomes an obsession—no, an addiction—as strong as any drug.

Now you’re thinking, but that would never happen to me…or my daughter…or my son…or my spouse…

Think again. According to, one in every one hundred adolescent girls has an eating disorder. “What?” you say. “But I only have boys.” See above. Ten percent of people suffering from eating disorders are male. And these types of problems generally present during adolescence, but that doesn’t mean someone younger—or older—can’t develop one of these potentially devastating conditions.

This excerpt from WebMD might give you something to think about:

What causes anorexia?
Eating disorders are complex, and experts don't really know what causes them. But they may be due to a mix of family history, social factors, and personality traits. You may be more likely to have anorexia if:
· Other people in your family are obese, have an eating disorder, or have a mood disorder such as
depression or anxiety.
· You have a job or do a sport that stresses body size, such as ballet, modeling, or gymnastics.
· You are the type of person who tries to be perfect all the time, never feels good enough, or worries a lot.
· You are dealing with stressful life events, such as divorce, moving to a new town or school, or losing a loved one.

Most people who have anorexia or bulimia will deny that they have a problem. They don’t believe it is a problem, leaving the responsibility of finding help to their loved ones. If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder, here are a few symptoms to watch for:

People with anorexia weigh much less than is healthy, causing their bones to become their most prominent feature. They have a strong fear of gaining weight, and refuse to gain enough to look normal. In their minds, their bodies are overweight even when they are actually very thin. An anorexic will limit food intake by methods such as counting calories and cutting out certain foods—for instance foods containing fat or sugar. When a person with anorexia eats, they might develop odd habits like cutting their food into a certain size or chewing a certain number of times. Another sign will manifest as the person suffering pulls away from family and friends, becoming more secretive and making excuses about why they’re not eating or other food-related habits. But these are early signs. As starvation sets in, more serious signs will manifest in weakness, fatigue, loss of menstrual cycle, low blood pressure and slow heartbeat, purple skin, swollen feet and hands, and constantly feeling cold.

It might be harder to know if someone is suffering from bulimia, because it is easier for people with this disease to succeed in maintaining a normal weight. But this disorder causes tremendous strain on the body, including gastric reflux, dehydration, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, esophagitis, oral trauma, pancreatitis, peptic ulcers, erosion of tooth enamel, and tearing or rupture of the esophagus. Indications of this disorder might include fluctuation of weight, visible absence of fat under the skin, bruising, calluses or scars on fingers from forced vomiting, slightly lumbering gait, and possible muscle atrophy. Watch for signs of binge eating and / or purging after such eating occurs.

Haley Hatch Freeman has graciously granted me an interview in which she shares a little bit of what she has learned from her experience with anorexia.

NG: For our readers who haven't yet read your book, how many years have passed since you suffered so severely with anorexia?

HHF: I have been recovered completely for over 11 years. That is one major reason I am sharing my story. Many people think eating disorders are a life sentence but I’m here to say they are NOT. You can leave them behind and live a blissful, healthy life.

NG: Blissful and healthy. I think everyone in the world dreams of that. How has your life improved—other than the obvious health issues—since you finally received treatment for the disease?

HHF: Treatment opened a new life for me. I was able to work out the issues that caused the eating disorder and I truly became happy and able to enjoy life. I went on to college, got married, and had children.

When I was in the depth of this illness, with depression, which usually accompanies anorexia, I didn’t think joy and happiness was meant for this world or lifetime. I thought I would have to wait until I died to experience joy. I now know that is not true. I rejoice in every day and am overwhelmed with love.

NG: I’m so glad you finally realized that. How awful that you thought you would never be allowed to feel joy in this life. Do you have any favorite hobbies or maybe sports that help you stay healthy and happy?

HHF: I think it is important for everyone to find a passion in life. One major key to recovery for someone who has an eating disorder is to find their passion and use their energy to focus on that. One true passion of mine is sign language and interpreting for the deaf. Learning the silent language was a valuable tool in my recovery. Once I regained my strength and health I found joy in tennis. I played for my high school and received Tennis All State.

Currently, I thrive from teaching my children and spending time with them and my husband. I also enjoy playing the piano, scrapbooking, and being around animals.

NG: Wow, you’re a busy lady. All that along with writing and editing a book. That’s a lot of work. Now that you've accomplished this thing [writing a book] you promised to do when you were so sick, what are your future plans?

HHF: Without revealing too much, I will add that I had a remarkable spiritual experience, which you can read about in full in my book. I came to find out, through a type of life after death experience, that I had not yet finished my mission on earth. One of the things I was told, among many, was that I needed to write this book.

Obviously this [expectation] has been fulfilled and I’m finding out more every day why I was meant to do so by the touching stories people have shared with me after reading my book.

To answer the question, what is next? As far as my book is concerned, I am looking forward to more firesides, public speaking and interviews to reach as many [people] as possible.

Personally, I am enjoying raising my family and look forward to it growing in the future. More writing may be in store, as well as returning to interpreting for the deaf.

NG: With all you have going on in your life, do you still receive treatments for your disorder? If so, how often? (Therapy or medication?)

HHF: I no longer need therapy for my eating disorder and haven’t needed it for a while. However, I do still need anti-depressants to stabilize my body’s chemicals making it possible for me to choose to be happy.

NG: Choosing to be happy is key, I think. It’s so important to want that in your life so that when you get out of bed in the morning, you have something to strive for.

If you suspected someone you knew was suffering from an eating disorder, how would you approach them to get help?

HHF: Personally I would tell them of my own experience and let them know they are not alone and I truly understand their suffering.

For those out there who may be concerned [about] a loved one, my advice is to try to convince them they need help. Confront them with love and genuine concern. One way I feel my book could be a tool in this intervention is by showing the person my journal entries, or read some of my experiences. Maybe they will see themselves in [the words]. Denial is common. Forcing [the person] to see their similarities [to] my story or other resources can be powerful.

NG: How about a little advice. What would you say to another person who may be suffering?

HHF: I would tell them there is hope for a full recovery. Find a passion. Learn to love yourself and know that Heavenly Father and our Savior love them.

At the end of my book I have a letter “To Those Who Are Suffering” I would give them a copy of [that letter].

NG: Thank you for your help, Haley. Now, one last question, from one author to another. Do you plan on writing other books? What type?

HHF: I never esteemed myself as an author or writer, although I have always enjoyed writing. My book came about merely because I had a story to tell and knew I was supposed to get it out to the world.

However, I’ve been bitten by the writing bug, and have received some great reviews and feedback about my writing. I have enjoyed the entire process from rough drafts, to cover design, to book signings. So I think I will try this adventure again.

I do have a series floating in my head that I want to play with. It’s an LDS fiction series for pre-teens or young adults. It will be full of adventure, light romance and have the gospel principals entwined as well as promote self-esteem and divine worth.

Haley, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me. I appreciate your advice and assistance in sharing this important information my readers.

To hear more about Haley's battle with her disease, visit her blog at or you can purchase "A Future for Tomorrow" at your local Deseret Book in the self help section.

If you know someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder, please, urge them to get help immediately. An eating disorder is a disease, and requires treatment in order to be overcome.

Sources for this blog include:,,,,,


Cindy Beck said...

Great information and an interesting interview. Thanks for posting it, as eating disorders are becoming more and more of a problem, and people need to have hope that it can be overcome.

Haley Hatch Freeman said...

I was away for the computer for a few days or else I would have commented sooner. I want to say thank you Nichole for the attention you have given this matter. I appreciate the extra mile you have went to help share my story and to fight this disease. I'm truly touched by you. Thank you with all sincerity.
Not a big deal, but you said to tell you if anything was not correct. I was actually 15 when the disorder started controlling me and 16 years old, weighing 85 pounds, when I was put in the hospital. Thank you again!

Tristi Pinkston said...

Awesome article and awesome interview!

ali said...

An excellent article Nichole - thank you for the information.

I really appreciate the story that Haley has shared in an effort to help others avoid the road she has walked on. Thank you for sharing!

I have a little boy, only 8, but he already is so concerned about not getting fat. He is so skinny, only in the 15% percentile for weight, but he thinks he is fat. He'll suck in his tummy so he looks just skin and bones and say 'see this is how i want to look' and I worry so much about him.

Thank again, for this great info. I hope it helps me help my boy.

Anne Bradshaw said...

Thanks for sharing all this. Eating disorders are a frightening disease, and that's for sure--one that many more people need to learn about.

I love your background page colors, by the way.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks everyone! I love all this input. Haley, I'll change the age right away.


Lori Conger, said...

Great interview, Nichole. I've never known someone suffering from eating disorders, but as I read this post, I realized I need to always be aware of my own children's attitudes and behaviors. The world puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way, and I'm sure youth today feel that pressure. Thanks for the info.

Rachelle said...

Thanks for the excellent article and interview. This is an important and all-too-common topic.

Cindy Beck said...

Congrats on your great article appearing in the yourLDSNeighborhood newsletter. Good job!