Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eating Disorders - Behind the Whispers

Do you know how to spot an eating disorder? Most people have heard of anorexia and bulimia. But many people upon hearing the words eating disorder automatically assume symptoms of anorexia. "So how skinny did you get?" When they hear the term bulimia, the automatic assumption is "Oh, you vomited". It's not that cut and dried. The symptoms aren't that rigid.

Regardless of the type of eating disorder there are a few similar characteristics:
  • Eating disorders are marked by extreme behavior with food
  • Extreme reduction in amount of food consumed (anorexia) or
  • Extreme overeating or bingeing (bulimia or binge eating disorder)
  • Extreme obsession and dissatisfaction with weight, body shape and image
  • Increased isolation or moodiness
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth

Many individuals suffering with eating disorders also have what is called "dual-diagnosis." This means in addition to their eating disorder they may also be suffering from:

  • Depression
  • Drug, alcohol or other chemical addictions
  • Self-harm rituals
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Other psychological conditions

While many individuals get help for their alcohol or substance abuse, the eating disorder goes untreated. Rehab and sober living facilities don't always have experience dealing with these issues. So while the individual maintains a "sober" lifestyle, their eating disorder often spirals out of control. Chaos continues in their lives because all of their issues related to low self-esteem and the chemical imbalances caused by their extreme eating habits have not been addressed.

Although eating disorders are much more widely known and written about now than they were 20 years ago it's still a "taboo" topic. People are uncomfortable discussing it and don't know what to say. In addition to not fully understanding the causes and symptoms, many misconceptions exist. Often girls with eating disorders are told they should "just eat", or go to a 12 step program. It's not that simple. Eating disorders are complex. Some individuals are in and out of treatment repeatedly.

Education is critical to bring awareness to this epidemic. Just as many teens don't understand the addictiveness of "smoking a few cigarettes" and college students miss the link between alcohol addiction and binge drinking. Many young girls (and boys) who begin skipping meals, controlling their food intake or bingeing often don't realize this behavior can ultimately lead to their death. And while many high school and college campuses are required to bring awareness to drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders too often are left unaddressed. Because it's a "psychological thing" and its hard to talk about.

It's time to get past the whispers of this topic. Parents, college, high school and middle school students need to be educated. Here are a few disturbing facts:

  • Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any psychiatric diagnosis
  • 77% of young girls surveyed would trade their body for that of a celebrity
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
  • 90% of high school girls diet regularly when only 10-15% are overweight
  • 85% of eating disorders start between the ages of 13-20
  • Up to 30% of college students have eating disorders
  • 75% of women admit to having an unhealthy relationship to food aka disordered eating
  • 10% of people with anorexia die
  • Eating disorders are being diagnosed in children as young as 7 years old
  • Over 7 million women and 1 million men and children suffer from eating disorders. But how many are suffering that still haven't told anyone because it's so taboo?

Be informed - save a life!

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In peace, balance and health!

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