Latina Immigrants Prone to Becoming Binge Eaters


By Larry Greene
Latinas who are coming to this country as immigrants are finding themselves more susceptible to being binge eaters.
Eating disorders are serious business and adolescent females are the primary sufferers of these diseases. In spite of the perception that eating disorders target upper-class Caucasian women, Latinos are no more or no less susceptible to eating disorders than any other ethnic group.
“What the research is saying on Latinos is that Latinos are more likely to have binge-eating disorder said Dr. Joanna Bronfman, clinical supervisor at The Renfrew Center of Connecticut in Old Greenwich, “The Latinos who are more likely to suffer are coming from a greater deprivation.”
“With their assimilation into the culture, Latinos are as much at risk as anyone else. Eating disorders are equal opportunity,” continued Bronfman. The Renfrew Center is a national pioneer in the treatment of eating disorders among women.
Bronfman said that a lot of ethnic groups come to the United States, “the land of milk and honey,” and are enticed by the availability of food. “You have the well-stocked supermarkets, the super-sized sodas, super-sized hamburgers,” she said, “that’s part of the problem.”
There are four types of eating disorders described by The Academy for Eating Disorders. Anorexia Nervosa is the failure to maintain an adequate body weight, body image disturbance, and excessive dietary restriction. Bulimia Nervosa is repeated binge eating (eating large amounts of food while feeling out of control) accompanied by compensatory behaviors like vomiting to prevent weight gain, and body image disturbances. Binge Eating Disorder is recurrent binge eating without compensatory behaviors. A disturbance in eating behavior that doesn’t fit exactly with the other disorders is called an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS).
“Eating disorders are not choices, passing fads or phases,” according to The Academy for Eating Disorders, “Eating disorders are severe and can be fatal.” Depending on the type of disorder, eating disorders affect up to 5% of the population.
“There are a lot of medical issues that go along with eating disorders,” said Colleen O’Neil, owner of Westport Family Therapy in Westport. O’Neil holds master degrees in clinical social work and education, with a focus on adolescence and family therapy. Lack of proper nourishment may lead to growth patterns being interrupted. Bones, kidneys and bowels may be permanently damaged. Some young women never begin having menstrual cycles and are unable to bear children in later years. “It should be in older people, but kids are being diagnosed with osteoporosis, young girls in their late teens, early twenties,” said O’Neil. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that usually doesn’t show up in women until after menopause.
“You have to stop the behavior first before you can get to the root of the problem,” noted O’Neil, “To treat someone with anorexia takes four to eight years.”
“Ideally, if we could have more conversations in our school system and if the media would take more responsibility,” said O’Neil as ways to offset a growing trend of eating disorders.
Bronfman said the “American iconic body-image of women,” is often what makes adolescent females especially susceptible to some eating disorders. “Young women are often focused on the perfect body image,” she said. “When the world feels chaotic to these young girls, sometimes they believe that all they can control is what they eat.”
“The idea is to find value in self-worth, in other areas within themselves,” said Bronfman as to treating the problems. She said sufferers need to concentrate on inner qualities like their talents, gifts and achievements, and not just body image.
“Our media does not help with thinness,” explains O’Neil, “Kids compare each other on FaceBook. Their physicality is huge in their life. Sixty-percent of youth are on some kind of diet.”
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