March 29, 2008
RECORD STAFFwww.therecord.comThe voice of Aimee Moore's eating disorder is all she hears after years of starving herself.
"And it screams at her," says Aimee's desperate mother, Pat.
Twenty-eight-year-old Aimee weighs just 63 pounds. During a recent appearance on TV's Dr. Phil show, she described herself as fat, ugly and evil. Show host Phil McGraw told the audience her case is the worst he's seen. Aimee has been battling anorexia and bulimia for 15 years.
Now, parents Dave and Pat Moore wait anxiously at their home in Stratford as Aimee enters her sixth week of treatment at an Alabama centre for eating disorders. The treatment was organized by the show.
Before that, Aimee routinely gorged on massive amounts of pasta, ice cream, cake, milk, sugar, ketchup and pickles. Her mother estimates Aimee consumed up to 15,000 calories a day, more than seven times the recommended amount for a woman her age. Then she'd throw it all up, purging as many as 150 times a day.
Aimee's potassium level is so low, her heart is in danger of stopping. She takes a daily potassium supplement, but when she can't keep it down, it makes her esophagus bleed on the way back up.
She's already been hospitalized for kidney failure. Advanced osteoporosis has left her bones as brittle as those of a 90-year-old and she's lost an inch and a half from her five-foot-five-inch frame.
She has no body fat; her muscles have eroded as her body feeds on itself. Her body mass index is just over 10. Normal is 19 to 24.
"She is like a skeleton with skin," Pat says in an interview at her home in Stratford.
Aimee's brain is so starved, it's as if she's brain dead, Pat says. She's made several failed attempts at treatment in Ontario and the United States. Dave and Pat are hoping intensive therapy at the Magnolia Creek Treatment Centre near Birmingham will put Aimee on the road to recovery.
The Dr. Phil segment, called Deadly Thin, was shown Feb. 25, the same day she entered Magnolia Creek, which is treating Aimee free of charge. An e-mail she sent to the show in December caught the attention of a producer.
"I am out of control and my physical and emotional health are very fragile," she wrote, inspired by another sick young woman, who gained 40 pounds in treatment after appearing on the show. "I have come to the end of myself and if I don't get help soon I don't think I'm going to survive."
It's unclear how long Aimee will be at Magnolia Creek and staff declined a request for interviews.
"She's doing everything she's been asked to do," says Pat, who visited Aimee recently during a parents' weekend.
The centre is proceeding cautiously while Aimee's body becomes used to a new regime. She is now keeping breakfast and an afternoon snack down. Though purging only once or twice a day, she has yet to gain any weight. She is experiencing severe stomach cramps and constipation, her mother says.
Sometimes Aimee calls Pat, saying she wants to quit the program. At the same time, she is attending more group therapy sessions. "It's up and down, moment to moment," Pat says.
The centre doesn't usually take patients as sick as Aimee but made an exception. Its medical director had initially asked that she enter hospital in Ontario to gain some weight before being admitted in Alabama.
But her treatment team in Stratford didn't feel the hospital there was equipped to treat her, and she would have waited months to get into the Toronto or Mississauga hospitals that treat eating disorders. She wouldn't have qualified for admission to Guelph's Homewood Health Centre, which also has a program, because her body mass index was too low and her health too unstable.
Disturbing behind-the-scenes footage, broadcast on the Dr. Phil show, portrays her vicious cycle of binging and purging. Her mother says the binges can last two or three hours with breaks to purge. The process continues through the night, since Aimee sleeps only about two hours at a time.
She's been in and out of hospital for treatment since age 14, including stays at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto General and Stratford General Hospital.
Two stints in American facilities in the past three years were funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health. She completed neither program, leaving one early and being discharged from another for non-compliance.
At about age 18, Aimee was referred to Homewood, which has a leading eating-disorders program. By the time a bed was available 18 months later, she'd moved to the United States.
Her family has spent thousands of dollars on private counselling. "We're kind of out of options," Pat says.
Aimee began life an outgoing, happy child. Her outlook changed when she was sexually abused at age seven by teenagers at a campground, Pat says. Dave's reaction, based on the limited information he had at the time, left Aimee feeling ashamed. Her self-esteem suffered, and at age 10, she began cutting her arms. Four years later, she was abused again, this time by an acquaintance at a party.
Shortly after the second incident, Aimee began eating less and over-exercising. She wore a hole in the carpet doing aerobics in front of the television. That year, she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Aimee didn't tell her mother about the sexual abuse until she was 17. At about that time, she started to binge and her weight climbed to 140 pounds. Disgusted by the weight, she began purging.
When she was 19, Aimee eloped with a San Francisco man she met on the internet. He had no health insurance, and her eating disorder was raging, Pat says. After three years, they split up and she moved home, feeling like a failure again.In addition to the eating disorders, Aimee has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder tendencies.
She's had periods of recovery from bulimia but they've never lasted more than six months. And after every stay in a treatment facility, her illness has worsened.
"I have over-medicated myself with sex, drugs and even my prescription medications," Aimee wrote to Dr. Phil.
She is now on a disability pension. When money runs out, she resorts to stealing food from stores or scrounging it from garbage cans, her mother says. She takes a baby bottle filled with a nutritional supplement to bed at night but often purges it later.
April Gates, co-ordinator of the eating disorders program at Homewood, says some people use food to comfort themselves because they have other emotional problems. "It becomes like an emotional anesthetic," Gates says. Mental illness or addictions make eating disorders particularly complex and challenging to treat, she says.
Aimee told Dr. Phil her eating disorder doesn't comfort her any more, that she feels overwhelmed. "It numbs me and occupies time so I don't have to think and feel. I've always thought people would care about me more if there was something wrong with me."
Aimee's illness is heart-breaking for her family. Last December, Dave suffered a heart attack, then a brain hemorrhage. He had angioplasty and has returned to work full time at his factory job.
"It's like our daughter has been abducted by a rapist or terrorist who is torturing her day after day," Pat says. "We get to see it, but we can't do anything about it.
"Food addiction is one of the most difficult to treat. It's not like drugs and alcohol. You can stay away from those and the people who do that. But everybody has to eat."THE FACTS
4,000 to 5,000 females aged 16 to 24 in Waterloo Region are estimated to have anorexia or bulimia
27% of Ontario girls aged 12 to 18 are reportedly engaged in severely problematic food and weight behaviour
0.5% to 1.5% of Canadian females aged 16 to 24 have anorexia; 1% to 3% have bulimia
20% is the death rate in 30-year follow-up studies of those with eating disorders
STATISTICS CANADA AND NATIONAL EATING DISORDERS INFORMATION CENTRETHE SIGNS
Claims of feeling fat when weight is normal or low.
Preoccupation with food, weight, counting calories and what people think.
Denial that there is a problem.
Wanting to be perfect.
Intolerance of others.
Inability to concentrate.WHAT IS IT?
Intense and irrational fear of body fat and weight gain.
Body image distortion.
Significant weight loss not due to physical illness.
Cycles of uncontrolled, secretive binge eating and purging.
Purging can be self-induced vomiting, laxatives and excessive exercise.
Feeling out of control while eating.
Extreme concern with body weight and shape.
SOURCE: EATING DISORDERS AWARENESS COALITION OF WATERLOO REGION
CALL FOR HELP (Southwestern Ontario)
Trellis Mental Health and Developmental Services: 519-576-2333 www.trellis.on.ca
The Eating Disorders Awareness Coalition of Waterloo Region: 519-745-4875 www.edacwr.com
Central West Eating Disorders program, crisis line: 1-866-366-4566 referral line: 1-800-471-1732 www.cwedp.ca
National Eating Disorder Information Centre: 1-866-633-4220 www.nedic.ca