By Richard MacTough
In 2003, Kathy Benn lost her daughter Shelby Starner suddenly from brain swelling.
Starner was suffering from Bulimia Nervosa and had very little nutrients causing the swelling.
On March 1, English Professor Allan Benn joined his wife to discuss the manifestation of eating disorders in Beers Lecture Hall. The event sponsored by Active Minds.
Starner landed a recording contract by Warner Bros. in 1997.
Her mother described her as creative, artistic and passionate for music since her childhood.
Starner had risk factors from being in the industry of music.
The media can often be bad for body image. Over 50 percent of girls aged from 11 to 15 read fashion and beauty related magazines.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 5% of women and almost 3% of men will develop or have developed an eating disorder.
In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men have suffered from an eating disorder.
Of those who suffer from anorexia nervosa, ten percent will commit suicide due to the illness.
Bulimia Nervosa also has an elevated suicide rate over other mental illnesses.
Anorexia nervosa also has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Eating disorders also have a high comorbidity rate with other mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Dr. Benn argued that even physicians cannot always be counted on to understand eating disorders and how to properly start treatment.
“Eating disorder sufferers will come to the emergency room, and a doctor will say ‘all you have to do is eat’,” said Dr. Benn.
Shelby’s mother felt insulted when the hospital suggested her daughter was a drug user.
She was and still is furious, doctors and nurses do not take a complex mental illness seriously.
Mrs. Benn recalls an early sign into Starner’s fascination with having the “perfect” body was at Shelby’s middle school talent show at Pocono Mountain.
Starner described herself as an “ogre” on the drive home looking at photos from the show. She compared the other girls as being more attractive.
Mrs. Benn attempted to diffuse the problem and assure her daughter it was a normal part of growing up.
A Christmas present Starner received was the butt master. It was a kind of work out equipment that is marketed to put consumers in shape.
“I didn’t have any grasp of the inner turmoil her body was causing her,” said Mrs. Benn.
Individuals with eating disorders often suffer from physiological symptoms such as low self-esteem and negative body images.
Benn showed a music video performed by Shelby called “Don’t Let Them” released by Warner Bros.
Starner worked many jobs that involved preparing foods and used it to her benefit to learn about dieting.
She used her mother’s cookbooks and started to eliminate “unhealthy foods”, sometimes a whole food group is a risk factor for eating disorders.
Mrs. Benn recalls having rules that dinner time was a place for the family to share what their day was like. Shelby would often leave from the dinner table in the middle of meals.
“It was like having someone we didn’t know anymore,” said Mrs. Benn.
Benn described her daughter lost her sense of humor and became short-tempered.
She wanted Shelby to stop and was angry with her, but Mrs. Benn admitted she had little knowledge of what really was going on.
Eating disorders are challenging and considered by experts as the deadliest mental illness.
Benn remembers Shelby was determined to fight her illness.
After Starner’s passing, Mrs. Benn and Dr. Benn became actively involved in eating disorder awareness.
They attended conferences sponsored by National Eating Disorders Associations.
Conferences like these aim to educate communities and attendees on the facts about eating disorders, how they can be prevented and management and treatment for them.
Kathy Benn was the first recipient of the National Eating Disorders Association courage award.
The crowd applauded Benn at the end of the presentation that was sponsored by Active Minds.
The organization handed out flyers for ways to help someone with an eating disorder.
The lecture was presented for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
For more information on eating disorders visit nationaleatingdisorders.com or call the eating disorders hot line at 1-800-931-2237.
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