Eating Disorders: Nothing to Laugh About!
Recently a new sitcom called the Real O’Neals aired on the ABC television network. It’s trailer to entice you to tune in included one of the sons announcing that he was Anorexic followed by the sound of laughter from the presumed audience. This, to me, and to the 20 million women and 10million men, reported by National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), that will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime is no laughing matter. According to NEDA eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness including Major Depressive Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder and Schizophrenia.
I can speak from personal experience that this illness devastates the lives of, not only the patients, but also the entire family unit, and anyone in relationship with the patient. Clearly this is not material for a sitcom. It is time for people to understand that this is a deadly and life altering illness for those of us that survive or live with the vestiges of the illness.
And yes it is and illness and not a choice, a diet gone to far, a means for getting attention, or just an adolescent phase (I am 52). No one wakes up one day and decides to have the most deadly of all mental illnesses. I know I did not, and I know those that have passed away from their eating disorder did not. To paraphrase Dr. Cynthia Bulik, PhD and leading researcher from UNC, the myth that this illness is a choice to somehow obtain the cultural thin ideal is the most damaging misconception for those of us that suffer from eating disorders. Because of this commonly held belief, patients with eating disorders are often not treated efficiently or correctly because doctors and health care workers believe they cause their health complications by their own behavior.
What researchers like Dr. Bulik are discovering is that these are highly complex disorders influenced by genetic, biological and environmental factors. “So once a person with the predisposition to the illness starts on that first diet “their anomalous biology kicks in and anorexia nervosa just sends them down a path they have no control over.”
Eating disorders for many, myself included, becomes a way of coping with feelings or circumstances beyond our control. It is a way of controlling something when everything else “seems” out of control. It becomes a dangerous way to distract one’s self from emotional pain and or fear.
So while the illness isn’t a choice, those of us that suffer from this illness have to somehow figure out how to recover. The beginning of recovery begins with recognizing the illness. Most people hold the common misconception that a person must look emaciated to be sick, but this is not the case. According to NEDA there is no way to diagnosis an eating disorder by a persons appearance. The vast majority of eating disorder suffers are not under weight, and because they don’t look “sick” they often endure years of physical and emotional distress because they feel they aren’t sick enough to deserve treatment. I believe this “never enough” thinking is a common thread that weaves its way through most of us with eating disorders and can often be the very thing that keeps us from seeking treatment.
This past February, and every February is NEDA’s Eating Disorder Awareness Month. This year’s campaign was 3 minutes can save a life. If you believe you or a loved one may have an eating disorder you can find information and take the 3-minute screening on line www.nationaleatingdisorders.org then enter screening in the search box. This can truly save lives.
Early intervention is crucial. Today we know so much more about eating disorders and effective treatment than when I first developed anorexia as an adolescent shortly before Karen Carpenter’s tragic death turned the spotlight onto the illness. This is good news for those seeking treatment because NEDA reports the 60% of those seeking treatment will make a full recovery.
All eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED) can be deadly with 1 in 20 of those people with eating disorders dying as a result of their illness. The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness reports that as many as 23 people die in a single day as a direct result of their eating disorder. Sadly, people with anorexia nervosa are 57 times more likely to commit suicide and it is the third most common chronic illness in adolescents.
Eating disorders do not discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or in my case age. Many middle aged women and men will relapse or develop eating disorders for the first time in their lives, and 25 percent of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia are males.
NEDA suggests that these are some of the signs or symptoms you may witness in a loved one with an eating disorder:
Avoiding eating meals or snacks around others.
Categorizing food into “good foods” and “bad foods.”
Calculating the number of fat grams and calories in everything they eat.
Talk or worry about their weight, size and shape.
Frequently use the restroom after meals.
Frequently weigh his or herself.
Exercise out of guilt or to lose weight instead of health and enjoyment
Have periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating beyond the point of being comfortably full.
Withdraw from usual friends or activities.
If you observe these behaviors in yourself or a loved one, you or your loved one may be struggling with or on the way to developing an eating disorder. Remember that early intervention is key. Start the conversation and end the stigma surrounding eating disorders and other mental illnesses. The only shame of mental illness is silence.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month….IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT IT!!
Observe your loved ones and check in with yourself. Ask questions and connect with them instead of you smart phones. Remember they are more than enough and worth the conversation. You are more than enough and worth the conversation.
I am more than enough. This is why I share my struggle with anorexia as an adolescent, a young woman and my recent relapse as a middle-aged woman. I share on my blog eatingbyfaith.com and I will share my journey in my soon to be published book by the same title. It is an honest, raw account of my experience with anorexia. I share in hopes that people will have a greater understanding of the illness and so that those who struggle may not feel so alone in the illness. I share my experience of relapse, recovery and redemption through speaking engagements and working with the Tri-State Eating Disorder Resource Team. (TSEDRT)
The TSEDRT offers:
Contact information for area treatment facilities /specialists
Free Support Groups
The Body Project; An evidence based body acceptance program designed to help high school and college-age women to resist the cultural thin ideal standard of female beauty.
Our hope is to eliminate common misconceptions about eating disorders and serve as a source of support and guidance for eating disorder treatment options.
Team volunteers are available to deliver NEDA presentations that are interactive and comprehensive.
TSEDRT TEL: 812-584-1086 WEB: www.edrteam.org
NEDA TEL: 1-800-931-2237 WEB: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
I am available to speak on behalf of the TSEDRT or as an independent speaker about my own personal journey. I have been the Key Note recovery speaker for the TSEDRT NEDA walk, Project Heals’ gala to raise funds for those seeking treatment, as well, small local gatherings. I have educational materials on hand if you would like to have some, feel free to contact me: