The Effects of Eating Disorders

Liv Matalon said she would eat up to a pound of lettuce, carrots, and broccoli while she suffered from anorexia. © 2018 Ally Bovarnick


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Audio Transcript: Bovarnick script

By Ally Bovarnick, SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS)—  When Liv Matalon was only thirteen years old, she battled the eating disorder anorexia. Matalon is now a 20-year-old junior at Syracuse University. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can take over one’s life physically, mentally and emotionally.

Caitlyn Chappell, a licensed clinical social worker, works in a private practice in Boston and treats many clients who suffer from food disorders. She said many eating disorders first appear at a young age.

“I have some clients who are in middle school who are kind of starting to explore like just the restrictive type eating so I think that’s probably when most people start to have those feelings or thoughts,” Chappell said.

Chappell said by the time most girls reach college, their eating disorders have been well established. These disorders can damage self- esteem, relationships, and encourage perfectionist traits at work and school.

“But really I think that it impacts all domains of life when it gets to full blown eating disorder,” Chappell said.

Matalon’s original intent for losing weight was to become healthier. However, as she began to see the positive results of her weight loss, she became obsessive about losing as much weight as she could.

“I remember by the end of it I would eat a bag of carrots and lettuce each day,” Matalon said.

Before she realized it, she had become a full-blown anorexic.

“Within those 6 months I went from, I want to say 120 pounds to 76,” she said.

Matalon knows the devastating effects that anorexia can have on a person’s life.

“I remember at a certain point when you have an eating disorder and when you’re minimizing your food to that little your brain shuts off like you don’t think about anything,” Matalon said.

Eventually, Matalon’s mother intervened and brought her to a therapist. She passed out during a visit, and was rushed to the hospital. Matalon said it took a harsh dose of realism to bring her back from the brink of death.

“I went to the hospital and the first thing they told me was they checked my blood pressure and they said you should be dead with this blood pressure,” she said.

When the doctor told Matalon that she may not be able to have children, she described a lightbulb being turned on in her head.

“I actually felt something for the first time in a long time,”Matalon said.

Matalon said the hospital experience was a wake-up call for her as she began to realize the danger she was in.

Chappell described the toll that eating disorders can have on a person’s body.

“One of the most dangerous mental health disorders is eating disorders because the first thing to really be impacted is your heart, and obviously you cannot live without your heart,” she said.

Matalon’s road to recovery began with her decision to seek help. She stressed the importance of needing to help yourself when suffering from an eating disorder.

“When a girl or a boy with an eating disorder does not want to get better they won’t,” Matalon said.

Matalon said she wanted to get better.

“I remember being like well, I actually should start eating again,” she said.

Therapies for treating eating disorders include dialectical behavioral therapy, which includes being mindful and tolerating pain. Chappell also sees value in guided meditations.

“(It’s) A physical way to relax your body and  those can be really helpful with people with eating disorders because a lot of times they’re disconnected from their bodies and you really need to reconnect, she said.”

Something that helped Matalon maintain that connection in college was eating in the dining halls with friends.

“Just knowing that people eat normally, people do normal things, and people don’t have all these rituals and like you know don’t sort their food a certain way,”Matalon said.

Matalon does not consider herself fully recovered, and has to work hard to maintain a normal life. Looking to the future, Matalon expects to continue to struggle with her eating disorder, but is hopeful now at a healthy weight, she will be able to have children.

” I plan on having a family one day and I hope my kids never have to go through anything I went through, and I will definitely make sure of that,” she said.

Throughout Matalon’s experience she has taken away important life lessons.

“You should live the best quality of your life possible and in the future I look forward to just being happier about it and not really caring as much,” Matalon said.

Chappell said that she has seen many clients recover from anorexia and go on to have full and healthy lives.

“If a client is willing to put in the effort to recover, the chances are good, that with the right amount of outside support, a person can be successful in overcoming their disorder,” she said.

There are many non-profits who help those affected by eating disorders including the National Eating Disorder Association. According to the NEDA, about between 0.9 percent and 2.0 percent of females will develop anorexia in their lifetime.