Eating Disorders

Amy Julian

It has been estimated that as much as six percent of the U.S. population will suffer from a clinical eating disorder in their lifetime. An additional 45% will meet the criteria for Body Dysmorphic Disorder and poor body image (ANRED, 2007). These statistics are only for those individuals who have been diagnosed or have sought (or involuntarily been forced into) some sort of medical intervention.

While these may not seem like astounding statistics, when you think about a nation of nearly 305 million, this translates into 18.3 million people suffering from anorexia and bulimia, many without proper education on the perils and consequences of eating disorders, or friends who don’t know what to say to the sufferer. These numbers are simply too high.

Although it has been reported that eating disorders have been a part of culture since as early as Ancient Greece, when the Greeks binged and purged several times throughout the day, it wasn’t until the 1970’s when Americans were exposed to the withering body of popular singer Karen Carpenter. Her 1983 death from anorexia complications at age 33 opened many eyes and minds to the devastation caused by this and other eating disorders. This event caused millions of American men and women to admit that they, too, were struggling with anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. It was no longer a shameful underground secret to have an eating disorder, and it soon became acceptable to seek treatment.

Still, even with the public awareness of eating disorders, the symptoms and the complications, increased by Carpenter’s death, there was still some stigmatization and many misconceptions surrounding them. Many felt (and sadly, still feel) that eating disorders, particularly anorexia, revolved around vanity issues. Because many people believe that the problem is under the sufferer’s control and is a ploy for attention, they do not treat eating disorders with the acute observation and attention that they warrant.

In 1987, a group of medical doctors and mental health professions formed Eating Disorder Awareness and Prevention, Inc., a nonprofit organization that was seeking to educate the public and other healthcare professionals of the etiology, the treatment, the prevention and the ways about which to approach the topic of eating disorders. EDAP, in 1988, put together the first week-long series of lectures, events and activities, and called it National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Every year since, NEDAW has gained more publicity, public attention and acclaim for the work done educating people and urging local and federal agencies to do something about the growing problem in treatment funding and in media coverage of “perfection.”

Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization MEDA ( calls NEDAW “an unparalleled public education opportunity that brings attention to eating disorders and helps to reduce the stigma and shame associated with these illnesses.” In addition to holding community events such as fashion shows, movie screenings, panel discussion, and clothing donations, NEDAW calls to action those individuals who are struggling or in recovery from an eating disorder to remind them they are not alone. NEDAW also gives loved ones an opportunity to discuss the topic with friends or family members to help them see that they are not alone.

Events are held in colleges, churches, hospitals, offices and schools because no place is immune to the devastating effects of eating disorders. Here at UMB, The Women’s Center, along with MEDA, are holding an event on Tuesday, February 26, at 2:30 p.m,; the location is yet to be determined as of press time (see Women’s Center coordinator Maureen Hardiman for more info).

Other NEDAW events in Boston include “An Evening with Aimee Liu,” author of the bestseller “Gaining,” at Simmons College on Thursday, February 28, as well as “Hope and Inspiration,” a motivational recovery panel to be held on Saturday, March 1, at MEDA headquarters in Newton, MA. See for information regarding both events, including time and directions.

NEDAW continues to surge throughout the country and even throughout the world. It is important that this week-starting February 25 and lasting through March 2-we seek to become more educated about eating disorders, help a friend or loved one, seek out support, or just spread knowledge to others about the importance of prompt treatment and prevention.

This week, however, is not the only week we should be focusing on eating disorders. Eating disorders do not appear, nor are they cured in one week. Therefore, it is important that we continue to focus on staying vigilant against societal pressures of thinness year-round.

Some Eating Disorder Warning SignsBE AWARE: A sufferer DOES NOT need to appear underweight or even “average” to suffer ANY of these signs or symptoms. Many men and women with eating disorders do not appear to be underweight; that does not mean they suffer less or are in any less danger. Also be aware these are not the only warning signs; if you are concerned that you or someone close to you has an eating disorder, don’t wait to address the problem.

? Dramatic weight loss in a relatively short period of time. ? Wearing big or baggy clothes, or dressing in layers to hide body shape and/or weight loss. ? Obsession with weight and complaining of weight problems (even when not overweight).? Blames failure in social and professional life on weight.? Obsession with calories and fat content of foods. ? Obsession with continuous exercise. ? Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals.? Unusual food rituals such as shifting the food around on the plate to look eaten or cutting food into tiny pieces.? Bruised or calloused knuckles; bloodshot or bleeding in the eyes; light bruising under the eyes and on the cheeks.? Cooking elaborate meals for friends or family members and not eating any of the meal.? Vague or secretive eating patterns.? Relies on diet foods or claims to be vegetarian but does not compensate necessary nutrients (proteins, whole grains, etc).? Eats much more rapidly than normal.? Has a history of marked weight fluctuations.? Avoids social situations, especially those involving food.

How to Help a Loved OneThose who have a friend or loved one with an eating disorder often cope with immense feelings of helplessness and despair surrounding their role in the sufferer’s recovery. While will alone will not cure the patient, and professional treatment is necessary to treat an eating disorder effectively, here are just a few things that can you can do to help a loved one with an eating disorder:

? Urge the person to receive professional help-if they are under the age of 18 you can legally have them put into a treatment program; if they are over 18 it may be more difficult, but keep trying.? Remember it is not your fault; do not feel as though the person is doing it to spite you and do not cower under claims that you are to blame.? Don’t get involved in endless conversations about weight, food or calories. That just makes matters worse.? Be kind. Underneath the denial and bravado, the person is probably ashamed and fears criticism and rejection.? Don’t dwell on appearance or weight. Instead talk about health, relationships and mood.? Be supportive and caring. Be a good listener and don’t give advice unless you are asked to do so. Even then be prepared to have it ignored.? Never nag, plead, beg, bribe, threaten or manipulate.? Let the person know they are loved. Don’t criticize or shame by saying they are hurting those around them, but let them know you are concerned.? Don’t be a food monitor. You will create resentment and distance in the relationship? Don’t get discouraged if your advice isn’t heard. Being there to listen without criticism is the best thing you can possibly do.