On any given day, almost half of all U.S. women are dieting. The median age of onset of an eating disorder is 11-13, but occurs as young as elementary school. This devastating and potentially deadly illness impacts people from all socio-economic levels-college students, sports figures, celebrities, stay-at-home moms and prominent business women, even CEOs.
Eating disorders are serious illnesses with a biological basis modified and influenced by emotional and cultural factors. Nearly 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life-and-death battle with an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorder.
For years, eating disorders have been considered a problem that primarily affects teen-aged and young adult Caucasian females. However, whether the medical community is just now taking note or whether the demographics are changing is a subject being examined. The answer is probably both. But we are seeing a distinct increase among women of color (Latinos, African-Americans and Asians), middle-aged women and among men (particularly athletes, weight lifters, jockeys, dancers and gay males). Also of note is the increasingly lower age of girls with the onset of anorexia.
Despite the success of plus-sized models like Emme and performers like Queen Latifah and the candid revelations of high-profile celebrity sufferers like Paula Abdul, Dennis Quaid and Katharine McPhee, among others, the stigma associated with eating disorders continues to keep individuals suffering in silence.
Additionally, due to a lack of education and the silent, behind-closed-doors nature of the illness, family members, friends and many medical/therapeutic professionals fail to recognize the signs of an eating disorder or the full extent of the risks involved.
People with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem and obsessions with weight loss. Pervasive cultural norms and customary media image standards dramatically impact the likelihood of the development of an eating disorder among those who are genetically and environmentally predisposed.
Eating disorders can kill and devastate entire families-both emotionally and financially. But there is hope and there is help.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), headquartered in Seattle, Wash., is the largest not-for-profit organization in the country dedicated to supporting research for the prevention, treatment and cure of eating disorders; supporting state legislative and advocacy efforts for access to treatment; expanding public education and awareness of eating disorders; promoting access and providing referrals to quality treatment for those affected; providing support for their loved ones. Since the inception of its Helpline in 1999, NEDA has referred more than 50,000 people to treatment and tallies more than 40 million hits annually on its Web site.
For treatment referrals, visit www.NationalEatingDisorders.org
Or contact the National Eating Disorder Association's
Live Helpline: 800-931-2237
Monday - Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (PST)
10 Signs of an Eating Disorder:
- Drastic weight loss.
- Preoccupation with counting calories.
- The need to weigh yourself several times a day.
- Excessive exercise.
- Binge eating or purging.
- Food rituals, like taking tiny bites, skipping food groups or re-arranging food on the plate.
- Avoiding meals or only wanting to eat alone.
- Taking laxatives or diuretics.
- Smoking to curb appetite.
- Persistent view of yourself as fat that worsens despite weight loss.