Eating disorder specialist thinks local numbers off

Krista Carpenter



Eating disorders have a variety of negative health effects, including:

■ Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which means that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.

■ Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.

■ Muscle loss and weakness.

■ Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.

■ Fainting, fatigue and overall weakness.

■ Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.

■ Growth of a downy layer of hair — called lanugo — all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

Source: National Eating Disorders Association

Nationally, more people die of eating disorders than from suicide, according to a Grand Junction specialist who treats the disorder.

While the statistic does not hold true in Mesa County, the illness, which takes several forms, is more widespread here than some people think, said Krista Carpenter of Lotus Counseling, 347 N. Seventh St.

Eating disorders are real, complex and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice.

Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health, Carpenter said.

An illness that affects mostly women is impacting more and more men, she said.

Across the U.S., more than 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or an eating disorder not otherwise specified, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Holding a negative image of one’s own body size or type can spur the development of the disease, but depression and anxiety also play a big role, Carpenter said.

“Societal pressures are obviously huge right now and have been for the last 15 or 20 years, so it does play a big role, but I think more than anything having control and coping with stressors is the primary cause.

“In my opinion, people are binge eating to fill an emotional void. It’s a way for them to cope with anxiety and depression,” she said.

“There does not have to be a trauma in their background, but a lot of people who were subjected to sexual abuse when they were children end up with eating disorders,” Carpenter said.

Another aspect of the disease is a need for control. People who feel they do not have control over their lives may attempt to assert control over their eating in unhealthy ways.

This coping mechanism to deal with emotional disturbances can have many negative impacts on the body.

In the case of binge eating, the body experiences electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.

“Purging is really hard on your heart,” Carpenter said. “People die from purging all the time. People have heart attacks.”

Binge eating can cause the stomach or throat to tear. Frequent vomiting leads to tooth decay, constipation, peptic ulcers and pancreatitis, or swelling of the pancreas, the National Eating Disorders Association said.

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and gallbladder disease, the association said.

A licensed professional counselor with more than 10 years experience in the field, Carpenter said the need for specialized treatment is in Mesa County is great.

“I just opened the new clinic in Grand Junction,” Carpenter said. “It is the only place within a 200-mile radius that treats eating disorders.”

There are several therapists in the area who treat eating disorders, but Lotus is the only clinic that specializes in the disease, she said.

Lotus provides evidence-based treatment, which is recognized as the most reliable and effective method to overcome eating disorders, she said.

Carpenter focuses her clients on being in the moment and staying mindful and aware of their own feelings. Meditation plays a role in this. She also educates her clients to learn new ways to regulate their own emotions and how to communicate their emotional needs to others.

Carpenter said she works with a multidisciplinary team of therapists, medical doctors, nutritionists, experts in movement therapies, and spiritual guides.

“All of my clients are required to see a nutritionist,” she said.

“Our therapists will often eat, grocery shop, and engage in movement with our clients,” Carpenter said. 

Movement, art, and other creative therapies are often incorporated into therapy in addition to the more traditional modalities of treatment. 

“We understand that mental health and eating disorders are complicated and challenging illnesses that require care and healing in all aspects of a person’s life,” Carpenter said.


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