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news: “shy eating” is early warning for eating disorder

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Title/Topic: “Shy Eating” is Early Warning for Eating Disorder
Posted On: 11/14/2007
Nashville, Nov 13 2007 ( – Right now there are about 11 million Americans diagnosed with eating disorders. They are either battling extreme weight loss or the urge to binge and purge.

Now, experts are warning about another sign of trouble. It often appears before any of the other classic symptoms.

Leslie Lipton, 21, loves eating out now, but as a young teenager, she was afraid to open a menu.

“I assumed that everyone was watching everything that I put in my mouth and everything that I ordered,” said Lipton, a recovered anorexic. “They must be making judgments about me, that I was too fat or lazy or a pig.”

The school cafeteria, dinner at her best friend’s house, family get-togethers all caused anxiety attacks she was so self-conscious she stopped eating in public.

“For myself, I know that it was very much trying to control the way others would perceive me,” she said.

Her decision to avoid food in public was a precursor to anorexia. She was diagnosed in the ninth grade.

“Chances are if they’re not eating in front of others, they’re also not eating by themselves,” said Lynn Grefe, chief executive of the National Eating Disorder Association.

Grefe said “shy eating” is now recognized as an early warning sign that something worse could be going on.

“It’s not about being shy,” she said. “People with eating disorders are trying to control themselves because, at times, they feel they can’t control the world around them.”

Some researchers believe the behavior could be triggered by major life changes.

“When we talk about adolescence, we’re talking about probably one of the most intense period of transition in the life cycle,” said Dr. Bernardo Carducci, who works for the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast.

That’s when Lipton’s mother noticed that eating had become almost a competitive sport for her daughter.

“She wanted a hamburger but everyone else had just salad on their plate, so she couldn’t have a hamburger,” said her mother Mary Lipton. “If you have two leaves of lettuce on your plate, I’m going to put one.”

But not all shy eating is a symptom of anorexia or bulimia, so, how do you know when it’s serious?

“When it starts to interfere with your life,” said Lipton said.

“If you’re going to go to a social function, who’s going to be there, what are they going to be serving?” Carducci said. “You become preoccupied with that, so that you may think about not going.”

And shy eaters often fly under the radar. They’re very good at coming up with believable excuses.

“Like, Oh, gee, I’ve already eaten’ or ‘I ate earlier’ or ‘I’m not hungry right now,'” Grefe said. “The best idea is to get a person some counseling immediately to find out what’s really going on.”

“Sit down with your child and say, “Look, is there anything wrong?” I’m getting concerned,” Mary Lipton said.

Leslie Lipton is now fully recovered and has an important message for everyone.

“Recovery is definitely worth it,” she said. “There’s so many more important things that you can do with your life if you just, sort of, realize that food isn’t the only thing.”

“Shy eating” isn’t just occurring with teenagers. Since it happens during times of transition, doctors say it affects adults who are changing jobs, moving, or going through a divorce.

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