Eating Disorder Facts: What You Didn't Know
From anorexia to bulimia nervosa, this author shares surprising facts about eating disorders and what led to her recovery
Do you know someone with an eating disorder? You might think you don't, but chances are, you actually do. The fact is, most of the 30 million people with an eating disorder look relatively healthy; some are even a bit above average in weight.
Many think of anorexia when they think of an eating disorder, and often associate it with young, white women who are underweight. However, eating disorders are not only an affliction of young women.
"Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illness and can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, socioeconomic level, etc. Someone dies every hour as a result of an eating disorder. However, they are very treatable with support from loved ones, mental health professionals, and medical professionals," advises Lynn Slawsky, Executive Director of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).
Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. This disorder is categorized by the frequent eating of more food than needed without purging, often eating to the point of discomfort. Of those with BED, 40 percent are men.
The causes of eating disorders are many. It is not as simple as choosing to eat too little or too much. Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all play a part. Many of those with eating disorders suffer from depression and/or anxiety, and many have a distorted body image.
My struggle with bulimia nervosa
Eating disorders are a very personal subject for me. When I was in my late teens, I was bulimic. Originally, my friends and I thought purging would help us get skinny. Soon, we realized that it didn't make a bit of difference in our size, and actually caused us to gain weight. So my friends stopped. Unfortunately, I didn't.
For me, it had nothing to do with my size and everything to do with my need to take control of something, anything, in my life. I was in an unhealthy relationship and didn't feel good about myself as a result. Controlling what I ingested was something that gave me pleasure (eating) and gave me a feeling of control (purging). For a few moments, I felt strong, happy, and able to cope with the challenges in my life. But then I would feel horrible shame and embarrassment. My family had no idea what was going on with me. They never saw my destructive eating habits, I hid them well.
After about a year, I decided that something had to change. I was no longer in a bad relationship, and I was trying to move forward in life. This was in the mid-80s when there was a stigma around mental health issues. No way could I go to a therapist, and I certainly couldn't talk to friends and family. How could they possibly understand? Recovery for me was a difficult, drawn-out process and it took me another two years to break the cycle on my own. The long term effects of this illness have been tough - I have dental and gastrointestinal issues, and my bone density is that of someone older. All because of three years of bulimia.
My story is not that uncommon. Normal people struggle with this illness and hide it from those they care about. However, in this day and age, there is no reason for anyone to fight this battle on their own. We need to support our friends and family as much as possible.
If you suspect that your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out and help them get assistance. Do not judge or belittle the seriousness of the illness as it is not easily controlled. This is a challenge best faced with the support of loved ones.
References: Mentalhealthamerica.net, National Eating Disorders Association, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)