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Bulimia: Out Of The Shadows

Body image and weight have been a part of our consciousness forever. But, lately, it seems people are getting thinner and thinner - in magazines, on TV and in the movies.

Some of us know it's an impossible ideal. But for many, being unrealistically thin seems like the only path to happiness and success. Model Magali Amadei decided to talk about her struggle with bulimia to raise awareness of a serious problem that many people still don't know about or choose to disregard.

She visited CBS News This Morning with Claire Mysko, director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association in New York.

Bulimia is especially rampant in the modeling business, as Amadei well knows. She has had agents tell her to throw up. She threw up in Mick Jagger's bathroom.

She has stopped up toilets. She passed out at a photo shoot. Yet, somehow, she managed to hide it from people.

There were rumors going around that she was a cocaine addict, and she never denied it, preferring people to think she was on drugs than bulimic.

Says Mysko: "I think there's a lot of misconception about bulimia and eating disorders. People tend to disregard them because they think they're vanity issues about how the person looks, that it's narcissistic, when in fact they're complex psychological problems."

"And there are cultural issues as well, especially with actresses and models being so thin in our culture," she adds.

More people need to understand that bulimia is not just about food and weight but about psychological issues such as low self-esteem and depression, she emphasizes.

She estimates that 5 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and that 5 percent of adolescents have bulimia. But, adds Mysko, "You have to remember that these numbers aren't exact, because this is only based on the people who actually come forward and [admitted] they have a problem."

"A lot of people keep it a secret, so I would think the actual numbers are a lot higher. [The] National Institute of Mental Health supplies the statistics," she says.

Here are a few warning signs:

  • Going to the bathroom immediately after meals.
  • Being preoccupied with food and weight.
  • Seeming depressed or withdrawing from friends and family, and avoiding social situations.
Here's what to do if you think a friend may be bulimic:
  • Confront the person in a caring and compassionate manner. Emphasize that you're there to help, not judge.
  • Encourage the person to get help, and follow through. You might make an appointment with a doctor, and go along on the appointment to be supportive.
  • Really educate yourself about eating disorders. The more you know about the problem, the better you can deal with it.
Model Amadei decided to come forward with her bulimia because, she says, "I really didn't want other people to suffer in silence because I wasted seven years f my life. Nothing good came out of it."

The biggest problem, says Amadei, is that no one talks about bulimia. Her message is that it is treatable, and that there are professionals who can help. "The way you look," she says, "doesn't make you who you are."

For more information, see the American Anorexia Bulimia Association Web site.

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