By Dr. Kevin Wang
Looking good for you
Before I start my column, I’d like to remind everyone of a survey I’m conducting. I’m starting a research project in my program to increase awareness of the LGBT community in the medical community. These surveys ask you what you wish or would like your primary care physician to know about our community. Please e-mail me at the address below and I’ll send out the materials. I’d like to thank those of you who have responded. Your help is much appreciated. Now on to this month’s column!
My last few regularly scheduled columns discussed the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and the hazards of obesity. If you’d like to see them, please visit www.pridesource.com. One of the more interesting comments I received dealt with body image, self-esteem and how being overweight can often lead to the destruction of both. What a perfect way to introduce this month’s topic!
As ashamed as I am to admit it, I am one of those people who are obsessed with making sure I look good then I walk out the door. I wake up in the morning, eat a bowl of cereal that not loaded with sugar and is high in fiber (it’s good to be regular!), brush my teeth (with whitening toothpaste no less), hop into my work clothes, slather in hair product and do another glance over before I walk out the door to make sure everything is just right. I’m certainly no Heath Ledger – my belly might not be as toned as I’d like, I could stand to lose a few pounds here and there and some muscles would be nice – but on the whole, I’m pretty satisfied with the way I look and my morning routine is as “obsessed” as I get.
Unfortunately, we’re bombarded every single day about what an ideal body should look like and how we haven’t achieved that perfection. You’ll see magazines in the grocery store emphasizing on the perfect body, which celebrity gained five pounds (even if they definitely needed it!), models and actors/actresses displaying an almost impossible and unattainable level of thinness. It’s easy to dismiss these magazines and advertisements, but when we’re bombarded by these several times a day it’s hard to ignore.
Now it’s easy to say that all we have to do is ignore these almost subliminal messages, concentrate on a healthy diet, exercise and make peace with our bodies. I wish the process was just that simple, but it’s easy to fall in to the trap of not liking the body you’re in and destroying your fragile self-esteem.
As a result, two significant eating disorders have erupted with an alarming increase in the last few years. The first is anorexia nervosa. Most people may remember Tracey Gold (Carol from “Growing Pains”) suffering from this disease. This diagnosis requires three diagnostic criteria: 1) The refusal to maintain weight within a normal range for height and age, 2) Fear of weight gain, 3) Severe body image disturbance in which body image is the predominant measure of self worth with denial of the illness. There’s the type of anorexia in which one withholds food and then there’s the binge eating/purging type where one uses laxatives, water pills or vomiting to control their weight (yes, anorexia can be associated with vomiting, not just bulimia). At the same time, they may be obsessed with constant exercising, calorie counting and avoiding fatty foods at all costs. There are a number of physical signs of anorexia as well – dry skin with abnormal hair growth (hair grows in fine and thin), heart rhythm abnormalities, fatigue and extreme weakness.
Anorexia may also lead to brittle bones (osteoporosis or osteopenia), heart damage, cognitive changes (impairment in thinking), GI dysfunction, endocrine changes (low thyroid), electrolyte imbalances and even infertility.
Darn it, I ran out of room for this month’s column. Next month, I’ll discuss a bit about bulimia and will finish off the topic the month after by discussing body image, self-esteem and where to find help.
As always, please see your primary care physician for any of your health concerns and to discuss ways to improve your health. And remember, I’m available for any questions you might have. Just e-mail me at the address listed below. I hope this column finds all of you in good health and spirits. See you next month!