Let’s get real about eating disorders

Meagan Malesic, Asst. Features Editor

     February 26th – March 4th is the annual awareness week for one of the most important and serious issues in our society – and you might not even know it. This week is known as “NEDA Week”, which stands for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and is dedicated to promoting awareness and encouraging treatment for individuals struggling with eating disorders. The theme of NEDA Week this year is “Let’s Get Real” in an attempt to increase conversation about eating disorders, which are commonly misunderstood and not talked about openly because of the un-comfortability and stigmas that surround them. Therefore, in light of NEDA Week and this year’s theme of increasing conversation, here are seven important facts about eating disorders that you may not know.

Anorexia Kills

     Eating disorders are not a joke. They are serious mental illnesses that have severe and even life-threatening consequences. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. Without treatment, one out of five women living with an eating disorder will die. That statistic is staggering and should not be taken lightly. Despite many common misconceptions, eating disorders are not frivolous lifestyle choices or fads – they are serious bio-psycho-social diseases that require equally serious attention.

You Can’t Just “Get Over It”

     Eating disorders are a legitimate mental disorder, just like depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. They can be consuming and negatively affect someone’s entire life, from their relationships with others to their functioning within school or their workplace. They also have much more to them than just food – eating disorders involve a complex relationship with body image, self-esteem, and a plethora of societal issues that can make it incredibly difficult for someone struggling with an eating disorder to recover from their mental illness without professional help.

Eating Disorders Aren’t Just Women Disorders

     Although eating disorders tend to affect women at higher rates than men, it is entirely untrue that men cannot suffer from these disorders as well. As many as 15% of known cases of anorexia or bulimia are males; however, it is believed by researchers that the number of males that actually suffer from eating disorders is higher, but the stigmas and misconceptions surrounding eating disorders make it more difficult for men to admit they have the illness and seek help.

Eating Disorders Aren’t Rare

     Despite the belief that eating disorders are the “supermodel disease”, eating disorders can and do affect anyone – from any age, race, or gender. Somewhere between 10-15% of Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point throughout their lives, and that number is unfortunately on the rise. Eating disorders may seem more rare than they actually are because of societal pressures to not talk about them, as they are viewed as such an uncomfortable and taboo topic.

Diet Culture is an Epidemic

     Losing weight is oftentimes praised – and even encouraged – within American culture. Positive images about dieting and weight loss are promoted by the media and perceived by Americans from extremely young ages. The repercussions of this are evident in the saddening Time Magazine statistic that 80% of all children have been on a diet by the time they are in the fourth grade. Even more relevant, roughly 90% of women in college have at some point attempted dieting. This societal fixation on thinness only further promotes the socio-cultural factors that encourage the development of eating disorders.

Research and Treatment Are Limited

     As previously stated, anorexia is the deadliest mental illness. Surely that must mean that research and treatment for it is the most funded, right? Wrong. The National Institute of Health only allocates 93 cents towards eating disorder research per person diagnosed with an eating disorder. To put that in perspective, the same institute allocates $88 per person with autism for autism research. The disparity here speaks for itself – especially towards how our society perceives the severity of eating disorders as a health issue.

Recovery IS Possible

     However, despite all of the terrifying statistics listed above, this fact is by far the most important takeaway of all. If you or someone you know is struggling from an eating disorder, recovery absolutely is possible. Treatment options are available and should be sought out. Eating disorders are debilitating and devastating diseases, but they can be beaten. For help and support options, resources, or more information about NEDA Week and the NEDA Foundation, please visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.