Eating disorders documented in ‘Dying to Be Thin,’ which is set to screen in Park City
CONNECT Summit County’s Brain Storm Film Festival will present a free screening of the documentary “Dying to Be Thin,” not rated, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave. For information, visit http://www.connectsummitcounty.org.
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, CONNECT Summit County — a nonprofit that raises awareness about mental health issues — wants to address eating disorders.
It is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders.
Dr. Karen Malm, executive director of Summit Community Counseling, wanted to bring the community into a discussion about eating disorders, so she introduced Larkin McPhee’s documentary “Dying to Be Thin” to CONNECT.
The documentary, which will be screened for free at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, is composed of stories that address the different types of eating disorders, the people who live with them, and treatment.
“It’s a very impactful movie,” Malm said. “I showed it to my staff to preview it, and it left everyone speechless at the end.”
After the screening, Malm will be part of a panel discussion that will include Melissa Taylor from the Center for Change, a psychiatric hospital that provides eating disorder treatment, and Sloan Pittman, an eating disorder survivor.
Malm suggested the film and topic of eating disorders because Park City is a competitive community, especially in outdoor and winter sports.
“I think in this kind of community, we’re at very high risk for our youth to develop eating disorders,” Malm said. “I also think many adults in the community have eating disorders.”
An eating disorder is different than dieting and just wanting to be thin, she said.
“It really is an obsession and mental disorder,” said Malm, who referred to the most common eating disorders — anorexia nervosa and bulimia — as well as a lesser-known disorder, orthorexia.
“Orthorexia was first talked about in the late 1990s, and it is a disorder where ultra-healthy eating becomes an obsession, and becomes just as restrictive as the other eating disorders,” she said. “With any of the eating disorders, you suffer from malnutrition, even with orthorexia.”
The symptoms of anorexia are the most obvious, and the person affected is obsessed with losing weight to the point of restricting the amount of food intake and will still vomit or use laxatives that result in weight loss, Malm said.
“Bulimia is less obvious, because the person binge eats in a small amount of time and then vomits up their food,” she said.
The one symptom of bulimia that did shock Malm was how much money a person will spend on binges.
“I had a client who was bulimic and would complain how she struggled financially, and I found she would spend $200 on food she would binge on in one night,” she said.
Eating disorders, which Malm said are prevalent in sports, dance and other physical fields, are usually associated with women, but cases have increased in men.
“This is the result of all the pressure put on boys to be physically fit, combined with photos of men with six-packs and highly defined muscles,” Malm said. “Half the time these ‘muscles’ are implants, and that’s was something I didn’t realize men did, but they do.”
One way parents can help prevent eating disorders in youths is for them to watch their children’s eating habits.
“They need to be aware when the eating becomes overly restrictive,” she said. “My daughter plays college soccer and it was the first time she noticed severely restrictive eating.”
Another red flag is a sudden and unhealthy interest in trendy diets.
“When a child becomes a vegan or decides to do the keto diet, those changes can be precursors to developing an eating disorder,” Malm said.
Preventing an eating disorder can also be tricky, and trying to shame kids into eating and talking about food is not good intervention, Malm said.
“We have to get to the bottom line of self-esteem in comparing themselves to their peers,” she said. “We have to help them develop good coping skills to deal with stress.”
Parents also need to help their children set realistic goals and develop realistic expectations for themselves.
“Not every kid is going to end up an Olympic athlete or dance for the San Francisco Ballet,” Malm said.
Treatment for someone who is already living with an eating disorder will take time.
“I believe they need to get professional help, because treatment is highly specialized,” Malm said.
Malm hopes the “Dying to Be Thin” screening and panel discussion will provide adults and youths with the information needed to prevent or seek treatment for eating disorders.
“Hopefully, if anything, it will lead to a discussion,” she said.
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