We hear stories about celebrity rehab, or we read headlines sprawled in large boldletters across the front cover of celebrity magazines that say, “Revolutionary WeightLoss Secrets Revealed,” “Scary Skinny,” or “From Addiction to Anorexia.” What we don’tsee is the facts. Rarely, if ever, do we hear or see the depth of despair and desperationthat struggling with an eating disorder, causes. Knowledge is power, and we as a society gravely lack both when it comes to demystifying and challenging this fatal epidemic. According to the Eating Disorders Coalition (2008), an organization that federally andlegislatively promotes eating disorders as a priority, “It is estimated that severalhundred Americans die each year with eating disorders listed as the primary cause of death.” Ask yourself, would the above headlines have the same fan-frenzy, if they read:“Eating disorders are among the top four leading causes of burden of disease in terms of life lost through disability or death,” “81% of 10 year old are afraid of being fat,” or “51%of 9-10 year old girls feel better about selves when dieting” (Eating Disorders Coalitionfor Research, Policy & Action, 2008).So, what exactly are eating disorders? What is it like living with an eatingdisorder? Who is at risk for developing an eating disorder and why do people developthem? Are Eating Disorders really that serious? Are Eating Disorders treatable, andmost importantly, are they preventable?
What Are Eating Disorders?
“ An eating disorder is marked by extremes. It is present when a person experiencessevere disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme reduction of food intake orextreme overeating, or feelings of extreme distress or concern about body weight orshape. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by emaciation, a relentlesspursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, adistortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight, a lack of menstruationamong girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating behavior. Bulimia nervosa ischaracterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (e.g., binge-eating), and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This binge-eatingis followed by a type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (e.g., vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting and/or excessive exercise.Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia can fall within the normal range for their age and weight. But like people with anorexia, they often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Binge-eatingdisorder, also known as Compulsive Eating, is characterized by recurrent binge-eatingepisodes during which a person feels a loss of control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. They alsoexperience guilt, shame and/or distress about the binge-eating, which can lead to more binge-eating. Lastly, EDNOS (Eating disorders not otherwise specified) includes several variations of eating disorders. Most of these disorders are similar to anorexia or bulimia but with slightly different characteristics.” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008.)