Eating disorders are often very misunderstood. I have heard over and over people say things like “they are just a phase.” Jokes are often made about eating disorders and some even insinuate that eating disorders are an illness about vanity. These misconceptions are hurtful and only perpetuate the stigma that one with an eating disorder already carries. It is important to understand the true definition of an eating disorder and its implications.
Eating disorders are serious and real mental disorders as classified in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association) The different eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Among those with an eating disorder, 8% have Anorexia, 15% have Bulimia and 20% have Binge Eating Disorder making it the most common eating disorder. The earlier someone gets treatment the better prognosis they have at a full recovery.
Eating disorders affect EVERYONE. No one is immune to this disease and they are not a “girls” issue. Every gender, race, sex, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic class is affected. It is estimated that are over 70 million people world wide suffering from an eating disorder. Men make up 10-15% of that population. It was found that 50% of 4th graders are on a diet and 80% of them are afraid of being fat. The onset of Anorexia Nervosa is around the same time as puberty.
Less than 50% of people suffering receive the treatment they need due to lack of healthcare coverage. Proper treatment must include both psychological and medical care. Treatment often includes psychotherapy from a trained eating disorder psychotherapist therapist, medical monitoring from a physician, psychiatric monitoring from a psychiatrist and nutritional counseling from a dietician. Family therapy and group counseling is also helpful. Many people are successful with outpatient treatment but if symptoms are more severe a higher level of care may be necessary including intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization or inpatient/residential treatment. Getting an assessment from an eating disorder professional will help determine what level of care if necessary.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder you can contact myself or NEDA for a free screening http://nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening. It is time that we break down the myths about these serious illnesses and work to improve awareness, early intervention and access to treatment.