While many people know the term Eating Disorder or anorexia and bulimia, most don’t know the depth of the diseases. As awareness is being brought to light nationally this week, it’s a great time to learn more about these illnesses.
Eating Disorders can effect a person in many different ways. Doctors refer to them as Biospychosocial illnesses because of their impact on a person’s biology, psychology, and social functioning or social networking, making these complex illnesses that are difficult to treat.
As researchers and practitioners struggle to find effective treatment, a continuously increasing number - more than 12 million males and females - now battle with bulimia, anorexia or some other form of eating disorder. And those who suffer are not only young women: a growing number of men are beginning to acquire this illness, along with individuals across the age and cultural spectrum.
These disorders are devastating. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females ages 15-24, in part because of the stress on the body. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder in the U.S. and a suicide rate that is 75% higher than the general population.
The psychological and social connections are clear. In one study, more than 50% of the individuals with bulimia had major depression. About 50% had phobias. And more than 33% had a substance abuse problem. The same survey showed that about 65% of individuals with an eating disorder had been previously diagnosed with at least one other psychiatric illness.
These stark facts are brought into sharp relief during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a time when we are all urged to learn more and do more to help those suffering from eating disorders. We are urged to recognize signs, and choose language carefully when we reach out to others.
But again, it's complicated. At the same time that we have an eating disorder epidemic in the U.S., we have the highest rates of obesity in our history. More than 60 percent of the population is classified as overweight or obese. About 40 percent of those suffer from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) in which they use "comfort food" to feel better about themselves. Unlike Bulimia, they do not purge - so they continue to gain weight.
Think about these illnesses the next time you see a video or magazine picture that glorifies celebrities who are dangerously thin. Talk to your family members or friends who might be vulnerable. Help them avoid defining themselves by their weight. Help them deal constructively with insensitive comments by others that make them feel inferior because of their appearance. The more you know, the more you can do to help fight this epidemic.