I'm Katy, a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.
September 18, 2017
Karen Carpenter was an amazing woman. She was talented, ambitious, and arguably one of the greatest singers of all time.
She died of an eating disorder on February 4, 1983, at the age of 32.
At the time, very little was known about eating disorders, and they certainly weren’t talked about publicly. Karen’s death started a conversation and brought attention to this dangerous illness.
“The curse of the blessed.”
Dr. Ed Tyson, physician and eating disorders specialist, describes this illness as “the curse of the blessed,” meaning that those who are predisposed to eating disorders also tend to be some of the most gifted, empathetic and amazing human beings on the planet.
Looking back, Karen had many of the risk factors for an eating disorder:
Playing with fire
Karen was restricting her calories, and had lost a drastic amount of weight.
At the same time she was dangerously malnourished, she was also abusing thyroid medication, laxatives and syrup of ipecac.
Syrup of ipecac is what poison control used to tell people to use with an ingestion of a poisonous substance at home, and emergency rooms used it too. People with eating disorders have also used it to purge their food. With repeated use, the ipecac causes muscles to break down, including the heart – it becomes toxic to the body and can cause sudden death.
Eating disorders advocates have lobbied the FDA to have it banned from over-the-counter status because it was proving to be so dangerous.
In fact, Karen’s official cause of death was ipecac poisoning.
Nobody knew how to help her
Back at that time, we sadly still thought eating disorders were caused by parents, and by “compulsive dieting.” We now understand that it’s so much more complicated than that.
Anorexia was included in the DSM (a diagnostic manual) in 1952, and bulimia in 1980. So we formally acknowledged anorexia much sooner than we did bulimia – both of which Karen suffered from.
Karen’s eating disorder was something barely recognized, and rarely talked about. It’s hard to treat an illness you don’t understand.
The treatment she apparently received included:
Treatment strategies have come a long way since then. Thank goodness – because the treatment she received was insufficient, ineffective and at times misguided.
Lessons learned from Karen’s legacy:
Since Karen’s time, many celebrities have spoken publicly about their own eating disorders, bravely showing the world that it can happen to anyone, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The more we understand, the better we will be able to help people recover.
Remembering the person she was
It’s easy to only think of the eating disorder when we think about Karen Carpenter. But let’s not forget she was a human being.
Karen Anne Carpenter was a vibrant and creative woman. She was passionate about her music, and persistent. She persevered through multiple rejections from record labels.
In addition to being an amazing vocalist, she also had a gift for the drums and electric bass guitar. Talk about talented!
She was a daughter, sister, bandmate, and friend. She loved playing baseball and softball, as well as dancing.
Karen Carpenter was a wonderful human being, and deserves to be remembered as such.
I'm a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.
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