Danger & Diets: Spotting the Signs

by Dr. Jenn Berman for FOX Fan Central

Dr. Jenn Berman
Despite the fact that diets have been shown to have a 95% failure rate, on any given day 48 million Americans are dieting. It has been proven repeatedly that dieting leads to loss of control with food and binge eating behavior. Experts have determined that restrictive eating is a significant trigger for eating disorders.

While 8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia many more suffer from subclinical eating disorders. In other words, showing some of the symptoms of an eating disorder but not enough to qualify for the full clinical diagnosis. Some signs that you, or someone you know, may have a subclinical eating disorder are:

• Obsession with or constant background noise of food, weight, and exercise running through your head

• Feeling self conscious or embarrassed about your body

• Thinking and planning what you have eaten and what you are going to eat

• Thinking of yourself as “good” or “bad” depending on what you eat

• Being dependent on a diet or food plan to maintain your weight

• Feeling “out of control” around certain foods

• Binges or episodes of eating when you are not hungry

• Exercising compulsively

• Feeling anxious when you don’t exercise or when your exercise regime gets cut short

The answer to the weight loss problem is not further food restriction but learning to become what dietician and author Elyse Resch refers to as an “intuitive eater.” Intuitive eaters consume a wide variety of foods but eat based on their body’s cues for food, instead of for emotional reasons. Many people may need the help of a therapist or nutritionist who specializes in these types of issues in order to develop these skills.

Many obese people think of weight loss surgery as an easy answer to their weight problem but this type of procedure is a high-risk, dangerous operation, which should only be considered as the last resort — after every other possible option has been explored. Some of the common physical side effects of weight loss surgery are:

• “Dumping syndrome”, an inability to digest certain foods, causing extreme and chronic diarrhea and vomiting

• Hair loss

• Lactose intolerance

• Malnutrition

• Anemia

• Osteoporosis

• Metabolic bone disease

• Digestive difficulties

• Gallstones

• Abdominal hernias

• Staple or suture ruptures resulting in internal leakages

• Neurological damage

Studies show that 20% of gastric bypass patients suffer complications requiring additional operations. Even more significantly, one in 200 patients who have this surgery die from it. The statistics go up to one in 14 for those people who have already suffered medical difficulties as a result of their obesity.

Surgeons are only addressing half of the obesity problem by treating their patients surgically but failing to address the underlying psychological problems that caused them to turn to food in the first place. Those problems don't disappear after surgery and can create a whole new set of problems. Common for patients to develop after weight loss surgery are:

• Depression

• Anxiety

• Eating disorders

• Substance abuse problems

• Fear of food

• Social phobias

Given that the American Society for Bariatrics Surgery reports a sustained weight loss of only 50% 14 years after the surgery, most obese clients would be better served by a combination of psychotherapy and nutritional counseling, which can lead to a much larger sustained weight loss resulting from a lifestyle change coupled with addressing the root causes for overeating in the patient.

If you are someone who is determined to get this surgery after researching all of the risks I recommend the following:

• Consider this surgery only as a last resort

• Only contemplate it if your health is in imminent danger

• Make sure you are working with a qualified surgeon

• Since this is such a risky surgery, get your affairs in order before the operation

Dr. Jenn Berman is a licensed psychotherapist and sports psychology consultant with expertise in the treatment of eating disorders. She has spoken about eating disorders and related issues on: 48 Hours, Inside Edition, CNN’s In the Money, The Other Half, Action News, A Second Look, and National Body Challenge. She also does consulting work for USA Gymnastics and was an active member in the USA Gymnastics Task Force on the Female Triad (osteoporosis, amenorrhea, and eating disorders) and the USA Gymnastics Health Care Summit. Dr. Jenn has a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology and wrote her doctoral dissertation on the treatment of eating disorders using an intuitive eating model. She is in private practice in Beverly Hills. For more information on Dr. Jenn visit her website at  www.DoctorJenn.com.