So, when you think of eating disorders, what comes to mind? Someone who tends to just eat too much? Someone who dislikes food and does not eat much at all? Someone who tends to be very self-conscious and looks in the mirror a lot?
Technically, all of these are true. Eating disorders do often include overeating, undereating, and obsession with body image. However, the severity of these disorders is so often underplayed. Mental illness, as you all know, is very, very commonly stigmatized. Interesting yet frustrating, eating disorders are often even more stigmatized than conditions like depression or anxiety. The fact of the matter is, eating disorders are a mental illness. The NEDA conveys that “eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males” (2016).
More plainly stated, this isn’t just something that is easily changed by saying “I need to change my diet,” or “I need to feel better about myself.” Just like the aforementioned depression and anxiety, awareness of illogical thoughts or hurtful self-talk is not enough to overcome the mountain of struggle formed by media influence, gender stereotypes, and constant microagressions that “thin is good,” and so on.
No words can encapsulate the struggle from an outside perspective. Even for those that have had years and years of experience battling against unrelenting urges, thoughts, and emotions, it is difficult to properly put into words. Eating disorders can, and often are, life consuming.
Some common types of eating disorders include:
Anorexia Nervosa-Involves an extreme fear of weight gain, inadequate food intake, self-esteem overly related to body image, inability to appreciate the severity of the situation. Some types of anorexia do involve binging and purging, but more common is the restricting type, which there is no binging or purging. Ways to spot possible anorexia include dramatic weight loss, refusal to eat certain foods or food at all, comments around negative body image, denial of hunger, social withdraw, and preoccupation with weight. Those who suffer from anorexia run the risk of extremely slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, narrow bone density, muscle loss, dehydration, and extreme fatigue. Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health condition; between 5% and 20% of those with the disorder will die, depending on the length of the condition. 90-95% of sufferers are girls and women, and between .5% and 1% of American women report suffering from Anorexia Nervosa.
Bulimia Nervosa-Involves frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food followed by self-induced vomiting, loss of control during binging, and self-esteem overly related to body image. Some warning signs are evidence of binging and purging behaviors, such as noticing large amounts of food missing or frequent trips to the bathroom (respectively), jaw or cheek swelling, social withdrawal, rigid exercise regimen even through injury, and possible calluses on the back of hands and knuckles. Bulimia nervosa affects 1-2% of adolescent and adult women, with 80% of sufferers are female.
Binge-Eating Disorder- Commonly known as “overeating”, Binge-Eating Disorder involves eating large quantities of food to the point of discomfort, feeling a loss of control, shame, distress, and/or guilt, and not using unhealthy compensatory measures to counter binging, such as excessive exercise or purging. Often, BED comes with functional impairment and other psychiatric conditions, such as high levels of depression and/or anxiety. BED can be recognized by secretive food behaviors, evidence of large amounts of eating, and a disruption in normal eating behaviors. BED is the most common eating disorder in America, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men.
OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder)- A broad diagnosis that contains several less common disorders. These include atypical anorexia nervosa (weight is not below normal), bulimia nervosa (with less frequent behavior), Binge-Eating Disorder (with less frequent occurrences), Purging Disorder (no binging), and Night Eating Syndrome (excessive night time consumption of food). While the signs and symptoms of OSFED are less specified, they are still very real, and affect many.
Some statistics associated with eating disorders:
- The rate of development of new cases of eating disorders has been increasing since 1950 (Hudson et al., 2007; Streigel-Moore &Franko, 2003; Wade et al., 2011).
- There has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).
- The incidence of bulimia in 10-39 year old women TRIPLED between 1988 and 1993 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).
- The prevalence of eating disorders is similar among Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States, with the exception that anorexia nervosa is more common among Non-Hispanic Whites (Hudson et al., 2007; Wade et al., 2011).
- Alcohol and other substance abuse disorders are 4 times more common than in the general populations (Harrop&Marlatt, 2010).
- 82% percent of respondents believe that eating disorders are a physical or mental illness and should be treated as such, with just 12% believing they are related to vanity.
- 85% of the respondents believe that eating disorders deserve coverage by insurance companies just like any other illness.
- 86% favor schools providing information about eating disorders to students and parents.
- 80% believe conducting more research on the causes and most effective treatments would reduce or prevent eating disorders.
- 70% believe encouraging the media and advertisers to use more average sized people in their advertising campaigns would reduce or prevent eating disorders.
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).
- 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets (Gustafson-Larson & Terry, 1992).
- Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).
- 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. Overweight girls are more likely than normal weight girls to engage in such extreme dieting (Boutelle, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, &Resnick, 2002; Neumark-Sztainer&Hannan, 2001; Wertheim et al., 2009).
- Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).
- The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds. The average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds (Martin, 2010).
- The average BMI of Miss America winners has decreased from around 22 in the 1920s to 16.9 in the 2000s. The World Health Organization classifies a normal BMI as falling between 18.5 and 24.9 (Martin, 2010).
The lists, names, statistics, disorders, and stories go on and on. This is all pertinent information, but by no means encapsulates everything. This serves as a base guide for what eating disorders are, what they entail, and what they look like in the context of various areas of society. I hope that they serve as a solid base for your understanding of this week, and for eating disorders as a whole.
Remember, you are not alone,
and you are loved.
This post is part of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Find the other posts here:
An Introduction To Eating Disorder Week – What Are Eating Disorders? – He Called me the “T” Word” – An Empty Home & An Empty Stomach: My Lifelong Struggle With Eating Disorders – The Fine Print – Doubt: Sarah’s Poem –A Journal on the Imperfections of Perfection –Nervosa
All information taken from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)’s website, from the following pages:
Want to submit to this site and share your story, art, or article related to mental health or mental illness? Email email@example.com