Eating disorder victim will tell story at Howard Community College seminar

October 20, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Arlene G. was a troubled teen-ager when her eating disorder -- bulimia -- started.

She'd stuff cookies and raisins into her pocket and eat them in the car while she drove from convenience stores to supermarkets to buy candy, doughnuts and potato chips. She'd binge, then regurgitate.

"I'd eat 10 candy bars at a time, three or four doughnuts at a time," she said. "I would order two ice-cream sundaes and make believe one of them was for somebody else. I'd purge anywhere, in the street, in the garbage can."

Arlene, who lives in Pikesville, is one of thousands who suffer from bulimia and its sister disease, anorexia nervosa.

Now, at 38 and married with a child, she is recovering from her disorder, thanks to Overeaters Anonymous, whose rule is to keep names confidential.

Even now, though, Arlene has periods when she wants to binge. Instead, she calls up a network of friends to talk about her emotions.

"A lot of people suffering from eating disorders do not come in for treatment," said Suzanne Ricklin, a licensed social worker who has counseled people with eating disorders for 10 years. "A lot of bulimics walking among us . . . are able to function in a job situation or school situation normally. They may have other difficulties, but you wouldn't know what's going on."

Arlene G., along with Ms. Ricklin and another counselor will talk about eating disorders at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Howard Community College in Room N116, the Lower Nursing Room. The seminar, "Is There Life After an Eating Disorder?" is free and open to the public.

Ms. Ricklin has been counseling women and girls with eating disorders for more than 10 years. She has seen younger and younger patients -- some only 12 years-old. Women are more likely to suffer from eating disorders than men, who tend to turn to drugs or alcohol, she said.

A person who has a peculiar eating pattern, who goes to the hTC bathroom after a meal and who constantly talks about food may be a bulimic. "Bulimics tend to be occupied by their weight," Ms. Ricklin said. "Their weight tends to fluctuate. They have uncontrollable episodes of bingeing and eating excessive amounts of food.

"An anorexic is easier to see because the person often looks like she's dying -- starving," she said. "It's like this incredible determined effort to get thinner and thinner. They have a distorted body image."

Treatment for bulimics and anorexics may include anti-depressant drugs, hospitalization, nutrition education and counseling. It also involves changing the way people view food, the world and themselves, Ms. Ricklin said.

Arlene's bulimia lasted more than 10 years. She never binged in front of other people. She was expected to stay thin, so her family gave her little portions of food to eat during dinner anyway. Her family never suspected anything, she said.

Arlene's purges became a ritual -- a way to express her emotions without telling anybody. Food represented her problems, and purging was a way to get rid of them.

"I thought my feelings would come out when the food came out," she said.

Her turnaround occurred when she lived in Virginia, away from her family, with no friends, no job, no car. She to "Dear Abby," describing her problem and "Dear Abby" wrote back, referring her to Overeaters Anonymous, which she joined after returning to Pikesville.

Local support groups include:

* New Life Counseling Center, Inc., an eating disorder group with offices in Columbia. There is a waiting list to get into the group, which meets Tuesday evenings. Call 730-7717. for more information.

* Overeaters Anonymous. Information: 764-3136. Meetings are: Mondays, 7:30 p.m. at the Interfaith Center in the Village of Wilde Lake; 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesdays at 3545 Ellicott Mills in Ellicott City; and 7 p.m. Thursdays at Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church at 6410 Amherst Ave. in Allview Estates. Call the Newcomers hot line: 800-743-8703.

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