Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Eating Disorders

Koach Marlo on: Eating Disorders Shows No Boundaries

For decades eating disorders, namely anorexia and bulimia, were considered a females disease, especially a white, middle-to-upper class women’s disease.  It was known to afflict females in their mid teens into early adulthood.  It was not really talked about and for many kept a secret for years.  Today all of these myths are dispelled as the number of eating disorders have grown into the millions and no longer have any boundaries.

In fact, latest statistics show that over 11 million Americans have an eating disorder, ten million women and one million men.  The age of onset for eating disorders can be seen in those as young as 9 years old to 17 years old, but cases on both sides have been seen as well. (Specific new classifications of eating disorders, called selective restrictive eating disorder, has been found in those as young as preschoolers.)  Eating disorders have been growing in various religious groups, especially within the Jewish Orthodox communities where more girls are diagnosed with anorexia than in the general population.  Other cultures and races also are seeing a rise in the number of females and males being afflicted with an eating disorder.

It seems that 10-15% of those suffering are considered to be serious eating disorders. Seventy seven percent of the individuals with eating disorders report that the disorder can last from one to 15 years.  Many will die of eating disorders each year, however due to other complications that arise secondary to this disease this number is hard to determine.  It is however known that eating disorders has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. And as many as 50% of those with eating disorders report they are never truly cured.

Today there are many factors associated with the development of an eating disorder.  Genetics, psychological conditions, athleticism, family dynamics and social pressures are all linked to this rise in eating disorders.  With 25 million men and 43 million women looking to diet or lose weight, there is a greater awareness of body image and its connection to dietary intake.  Studies confirm that over 50% of girls by age 11 think they are overweight or have already admitted to dieting.  The media’s obsession with body image, within articles and advertisements, has added pressure to women and men to be thin or at least change their physical appearance.  The growth of diet related products in the food industry is yet another place where the pressure to be thin is evident. 

Luckily all of this talk about eating disorders is becoming more commonplace.  From websites, to school committees, to health professionals to families communicating a greater awareness is being heard.  There are a multitude of out patient programs, day programs and residential programs geared to those with anorexia and bulimia.  There are many multidisciplinary teams who specialize in this disorder and are educated to help those who are suffering. There is help out there if you are looking to find it.

It is important that parents, teachers, coaches and other adults in the community are aware that anyone is susceptible to an eating disorder.  We must not assume it only afflicts white upper class teen age girls, but be realistic that is no longer the truth.  We need to watch out for symptoms that might include: changes in food behaviors, extreme weight loss/fluctuation, skipping meals, visiting the bathroom after meals, obsessions with exercise or dieting, removing oneself from social situations, counting calories and avoiding social situations that involved food.  All or some of these might be indicative of an eating disorder. 

Despite the fact that eating disorders knows no boundaries, with the right information and awareness, it can be treated.  Help those with anorexia and bulimia get help and turn the staggering numbers around.  Eleven million is eleven million too many.