What's All The Fuss About Eating Disorders, Anyway?
Yeah, okay. It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. What's there to be "aware" of? We all know that eating disorders are for vain, pretentious teenage girls. It's just a stage. They'll get over it. And it's not like being "too thin" is going to kill you. That's what everyone believes, right? Everybody has heard of eating disorders at this point, so why are we taking a week to specifically "make people aware"?
The reality is that most people are woefully undereducated when it comes to the prevalence, manifestation, and gravity of eating disorders. When most of the public thinks "eating disorder" they think "skeletal anorexic." They don't think "girl at the gym who works out for two hours a day" or "man who eats three fast food dinners every night."
The Truth About Eating Disorder Sufferers
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes (Eating Disorder Recovery and Weight Stigma). The behaviors we use are as varied as the 30 million of us that suffer or have suffered. Think about it: 10% of the US population will, at some point in their lifetime, have an eating disorder.
Pick ten friends or family members. First, consider the fact that I'm sure not all of them are skeletal. Then, consider the fact that at least one of them has an eating disorder (or had one or will have one). Then, consider the fact that this is true regardless of the male to female ratio of your list, regardless of the age diversity of your list.
Eating Disorders Don't Have A "Type"
This is where it gets tough for me, because as much as I want to educate people that not everybody with an eating disorder is the same, I fit the stereotype pretty spot-on. White, middle-class, female, highly intelligent, perfectionistic tendencies, first signs of an eating disorder in early teenage years. And at my sickest, while not skeletal, I definitely received plenty of comments about being "too thin."
But for many years, I could fly under the radar because my weight was "normal," because I hid behind the guise of being "vegetarian," because I wasn't obviously starving every day, or running to the bathroom immediately after meals, or consuming vast quantities of food that affected my weight (Overeating VS Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms). Don't be fooled. I had an eating disorder long before anyone figured it out.
My eating disorder probably doesn't look like your eating disorder. They might share similarities, yes, but they're not identical. The things they do share, however, are the fact that they are a mental illness (not a choice!) and they are very, very deadly. And they are becoming ever more prominent in our society.
Eating Disorder Statistics For Awareness
Consider the following:
- Eating disorders have the same incidence rates across various ethnic backgrounds
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental illness - higher than schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression
- The majority of men with eating disorders will never seek help because of the stigma
- Over half of those diagnosed with an eating disorder are categorized "not otherwise specified," meaning they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia or suffer from binge eating disorder
- A diagnosis of Eating Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified often means that insurances will deny claims because the problem isn't "serious" - even though current research shows that mortality rates for ED-NOS are, on the whole, higher than those for anorexia or bulimia.
- 25% of anorexics will die. 35% will make a full recovery. And the other 40% will live with an eating disorder or subclinical eating disorder for the rest of their lives.
- Inpatient hospital admissions for eating disorders are increasing for women over the age of 35.
- 46% of 9 to 11-year-olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets.
- 25% of pathological/chronic dieters will develop full blown eating disorders.
And the statistic that always gets me? The one that, when all is said and done, disturbs me the most? For each individual with Alzheimer's disease, $88 is spent on research. Schizophrenia? $81. Autism? $44.
Eating disorders? Ninety three cents.
That, friends, is why we need to raise awareness. Until people understand what a problem eating disorders are, how complicated they are, how they destroy families and lives - more research funding is unlikely. We need more than $0.93 per person to do the live-saving research needed to help those suffering from eating disorders.
And if we expect anyone to care about the pitiful funding for eating disorders, we have to first tell them just how serious and how widespread eating disorders are. Educate yourself, then educate others. Let our society know that this is a problem that is not going away (in fact, it's increasing) and that we need to care about it.
Because, in the end - everybody knows somebody.
(For more information on statistics and ways to get involved with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, as well as resources for treatment, visit the National Eating Disorder Association.)
Hudgens, J. (2013, February 28). What's All The Fuss About Eating Disorders, Anyway?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, January 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2013/02/whats-all-the-fuss-about-eating-disorders-anyway
Author: Jessica Hudgens
I've been obese my entire life. I started restricting food in my early teens. I lost some weight, but even with the loss I was still considered obese.
I started experiencing some of the physical symptoms that accompany eating disorders (chills, inability to focus, dizziness; I often came close to fainting, but it never quite happened). As well, the psychological symptoms were becoming more and more prominent. The only thing different psychologically was that I was actually fat, and not experiencing body dysmorphia.
Instead of people becoming worried about my behaviour, I was encouraged to, "Keep doing what you're doing. It's working." I was given pamphlets on dieting and on gym memberships. No one recognized that what I was doing wasn't normal, and that maybe I needed help. They couldn't see past the outside of me; they couldn't see that I was suffering.
I eventually sought help on my own, with no support from others. I was sick of living like that. I'm still sometimes amazed that I did that.
I'm still obese, but I'm physically healthy; more healthy than I was at any point during my eating disorder. I have been learning to love my body, and myself. It's not easy, but I'm making progress.
It hurts because there are so many more people who look like me with serious eating disorders, but because they don't look "like an anorexic/bulimic should look" they don't get any help or support.
Thank you for writing this.
100% agreed on everything you said. I am so glad you sought help and didn't allow society's view of what an eating disorder "should" look like to dissuade you from doing what you know what was best for you. I, too, understand the encouragement that often comes with losing weight - when I started my journey, I was overweight and was praised for my discipline and "healthy lifestyle." It certainly makes it harder to believe that we have eating disorders when we are doing things that our friends and family are encouraging.
I'm glad to hear that you are physically healthy now - I believe that physical health can be achieved at any size and there should be no shame in what your body looks like. Learning to love your body and yourself is hard, but it's great that you're making progress.
Thanks for commenting!
Thanks for your comment! You are so right when you say that the most difficult part of recovery from an eating disorder is the fact that we must face our demons anywhere from 4-6 times a day. Some days I wish I were so lucky has to have an addiction where I could simply abstain from the substance altogether -- not an option with food! I've heard it before said that alcoholism and drug addictions are chemical addictions, while eating disorders are behavioural addictions. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that!
its very hard to live with a family member wasting the best years of her life, cheers james..
Thanks for commenting! I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter. It is most definitely difficult to watch a loved one slowly destroy themselves. I hope the more you stick around this community and blog, the more you'll be able to understand your daughter's struggles and support her. It certainly sounds like you love her well.
Thanks for your comment! It's so true that the path to full awareness about eating disorders is a slow one. For a long time, only anorexia was talked about, then slowly bulimia became mentioned. It's really only in the past year or two that binge eating disorder has become widely talked about. I am really hoping for some research and attention in the area of ED-NOS in the coming years, as it accounts for most eating disorders.
Honesty and the bravery of folks like you guys, who refuse to remain silent about your disease, is really changing the face of this.
Thank you for this piece. It's very important to remember that eating disorders occur cross-culturally, even in very impoverished areas where malnutrition is rampant. I personally wish awareness campaigns would focus more on the history of eating disorders, the neurobiology behind them, and heritability factors, rather than the average size of the U.S. woman (again, implying that eating disorders are westernized illnesses) vs. the average size of a runway model. Maybe if we approached these diseases as scientific, rather than social, phenomena, the scientific research community would take us more seriously. Ninety-three cents is a staggeringly low statistic. It can't be only the research community's fault, though... maybe it's time for awareness/advocacy groups to ask what they can do differently. (I've seen this happening more and more over the past few years, and am thrilled.)
Again, thank you so much for this article.
I completely agree with you. Even NEDA has suggestions like, "Build a Life-Size Barbie." Never once in my life have I looked at a Barbie doll and thought, "Oh, I need to look more like Barbie." You're right to say that those types of beliefs only fuel the stigma. I will concede that the media does play some factor because if we didn't have a culture so obsessed with thinness, we would likely find some other way to express our shame, guilt, powerlessness - whatever it is that we are trying to avoid with the ED in the first place. But losing weight or keeping our weight down is socially accepted, even praised.
NEDA does have a couple of lobby days each year devoted to going to the Capital and raising awareness and asking for more funding. It is my hope that I can attend one in the future. I encourage you to check their website for the information about those. I'd love to see you at one!
I will definitely be doing an article in the future about the other factors that you mention as contributing to eating disorders. Awareness and education are where it needs to start to because, like you state, if people would begin to see them as scientific, not social, phenomena we'd be a lot closer to dedicating research funds toward them.
Thanks for your comment!
I'm posting this everywhere I can think of and I featuring it on my weekend web findings post on Sunday.
That's the thing.. we ask for all this awareness, but I feel like it's still something people just brush off like it's nothing. You give the real reasons. The real statistics. You break it down for anyone to understand. It is out of this world ridiculous that the funding for EDs is SO low, when the number of people suffering is SO high! it infuriates me.
5 thumbs up girl! (wait... that doesn't work...)
Thank you for being so great as to spread this article! I think it is an important one and people need to know just how serious it is. And I appreciate the five thumbs up! :)
Thank you for spreading the word! I think these are important facts and figures to know and like you've said before, eating disorders have "so much awareness, so little understanding." I hope this post can bring more understanding to our society about eating disorders and their precursors, symptoms, and effects.
Consequently, I am absolutely neurotic about what my kid eats and weighs, but I keep these fears and worries away from him. I don't want him to have a bad relationship with food. As a family, we try to make the healthiest choices possible and I think it is working.
As for me, I'm losing weight and I'm trying to do it in a healthy, slow way. But I count calories in a crazy way, sometimes. Excerise a TON at the gym. But everyone thinks this is what a fat person should do, right? This is a good thing! Fatties need to be thin! And, admittedly, I do feel better and some health problems have lessened, but if I have a "bad eating day," I totally berate myself the next day and punish myself the next day. But I never considered that I might have a type of eating disorder because I'm not throwing up, nor am I a skeleton.
This has made me think. . . Thank you.
I'm glad I could give you some things to think about. I think it is very sad that that you were being shamed from such a young age - that certainly doesn't teach anybody to accept their bodies or work toward a healthy relationship with food. The shaming continues into adulthood, when like you say, people have all sorts of ideas about "fat" people (they're lazy, they have no self control, etc.).
And I think you hit on the one thing that I was really trying to drive home: you can have an eating disorder at ANY size. I'm glad that losing some weight has helped you with physical problems you had been experiencing - but certainly want to make sure that you don't take some admittedly disordered mindsets too far. There are no "good" or "bad" foods and it's certainly nothing to punish yourself over, you know? And don't forget that everyone's body has its own natural weight that it will settle at. The whole "fatties need to be thin!" idea is completely contradictory to recent research about set points and the fact that not everyone is naturally slim. (For my own part, that has certainly taken some work to accept.)
One thing I would suggest if you're interested in further exploring your relationship with food is to take a look around HealthyPlace's Eating Disorder Community - it contains a lot more information that what I put forth here. Another great resource is "Eating in the Light of the Moon" by Anita Johnson - it takes a look at how women relate to food and their bodies and how we can begin to change it and make it healthier.
Please let me know if I can be of any more support to you! You know how to reach me!