Teen star Mary-Kate Olsen has checked into a rehab clinic to seek help for a "health-related issue," according to a statement released by her spokesperson, her publicist said Tuesday, a little more than a week after her 18th birthday.
Once indistinguishable from her twin sister Ashley, the brunette Mary-Kate has been noticeably thinner in recent months, leading to speculation that she might suffer from an eating disorder.
The Early Show entertainment contributor and People magazine senior editor Jess Cagle says that friends and family, who realized a while ago that something had to be done, intervened so Mary-Kate would enter the rehab clinic.
Cagle says:"For the last couple of years, at least one person we spoke to close to the family said there had been a big change in her, including dark circles under the eyes and not looking right. She had a car wreck a while ago. Her father said, 'In order to get your car back, you are going to have to gain some weight.' The family had someone watching her at meals. They were very, very concerned about this."
In an interview with 48 hours last spring, Mary-Kate Olsen compared her looks to her sister's saying, "I - are you kidding me? I look in the mirror and I'm like why do you look pretty and I look ugly?"
There are a lot of Web sites that actually promote eating disorders. In fact, they teach teens how to become anorexic and how to become bulimic. And these Web sites held Mary-Kate as the ultimate standard, Cagle notes.
"They were fascinated by her," Cagle says. "She'd become a hero to them. So it's great that she has gotten into treatment. It seems like the people around her are being fairly open about it, but not so open that they're using this for publicity or something like that."
Dr. Evelyn Attia, clinical co-director of the Eating Disorders Research Program at Columbia University Medical Center, points out the most important step is embarking on treatment.
She explains, "This illness has, on one hand, very seriously low weight. On the other hand, a reluctance to normalize weight and take care of the things you need to do, in order to recover from this condition."
A typical treatment would emphasize getting to normal weight and normal eating habits, Dr. Attia says. "We're more convinced than ever that the weight normalization has to come first. And support and psychotherapy are very important, but they work best when weight is closest to normal."
Asked if the family should be concerned that her fraternal twin, Ashley, might have a propensity for the disease, Dr. Attia says, "We don't know what causes anorexia, but we know biology plays a role. In any family, there needs to be vigilance, if there is, of course, a family member. Environmental factors factor in as well. They can affect siblings and even twins differently."
The following are some warning signs of a possible eating disorder:
- Skipping meals
- Overemphasis on importance of weight and body size
- Weight loss or failure to grow
- Change in foods that were once favored
- Frequent weighing
Every system could be affected, but common medical consequences include:
- Slow heart rate
- A cold feeling due to a slowed metabolic rate
- Low blood pressure and dizziness
- Hair loss and skin that looks sallow
- Interrupted menstrual cycle
- Abnormal blood test results, indicating vomiting and laxative abuse
The Olsen twins have a virtual empire, thanks to their popularity among young girls. Though their latest movie, "New York Minute" was a box-office flop, the "Mary-Kate and Ashley" name is attached to products ranging from clothing to beauty products, making their net-worth more than $300-million.
As they take control of their empire, Cagle says this illness might affect their relationship.
"Whether it brings them closer together or tears them apart, no one knows yet. They've already planned on sort of going their separate ways and doing separate things. I hope that Mary-Kate gets to the point where she can talk about this in a wise and responsible way. That would be the best thing to come out of it. It would help a lot of people," Cagle says.