How prevalent are eating disorders in America? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 10 million people in the United States struggle with anorexia or bulimia. Bulimia has become the more prevalent eating disorder, and while eating disorders affect both men and women, women are 10 times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder—though that number may not be accurate as men are less likely to report an eating disorder than women.
Individuals with eating disorders are highly competitive and worry excessively about what others may think of them. She evaluates her appearance and accomplishments based on unrealistic standards and goals—perhaps striving to be as thin as models in fashion magazines. This sets her up for failure, which may lead her to compensate for that loss of control in life with an excessive amount of control on food or exercise.
Many times, eating disorders are in response to coping with challenges, stressful situations, family conflict and school pressure. A struggle with self-esteem can be so tortured that a person with an eating disorder can starve themselves or become so obese as to incur serious medical problems (such as diabetes). Controlling food is used as a coping mechanism to either soothe or punish; weight becomes the symbolic proving ground for worth or worthlessness. Unfortunately, families often unknowingly participate in this drama to help control eating.
People with eating disorders may also suffer higher rates of other mental disorders—including depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse—than other people. Eating disorders most often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and the key to helping your loved ones with a potential eating disorder is to recognize the signs.
Warning Signs of an eating disorder include:
- Emaciated appearance
- Dry brittle nails, skin and hair, and or hair loss
- Lack of energy
- Low blood pressure
- Constant dieting or obsession with food
- Denial of the disorder
- Feeling unable to control eating behaviors (binging and purging)
- Excessive exercise
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after eating
- Using weight loss medications or laxatives
- Mood swings or depression
- Self-induced vomiting which may cause bruises on knuckles
- Blood-shot eyes
- Swollen cheeks and glands at the throat
- Dental problems due to acid from the stomach
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
- Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
- Perfectionist or obsessive behavior, especially with diet
- Poor body image
- Food restriction or obsession with food or food rituals
- Troubled family and personal relationships
- Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
- History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
- History of physical or sexual abuse
Eating disorders may often go unreported, and therefore, untreated. While some may not look at eating disorders as a serious affliction, it’s estimated that up to 30% of sufferers from eating disorders will die as result of complications if they are not helped.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are three major types of eating disorders:
People with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image that causes them to see themselves as overweight even when they’re dangerously thin. Often refusing to eat, exercising compulsively, and developing unusual habits such as refusing to eat in front of others, they lose large amounts of weight and may even starve to death.
Individuals with bulimia nervosa eat excessive quantities of food, then purge their bodies of the food and calories they fear by using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics, vomiting and/ or exercising. Often acting in secrecy, they feel disgusted and ashamed as they binge, yet relieved of tension and negative emotions once their stomachs are empty again.
Like people with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder experience frequent episodes of out-of-control
eating. The difference is that binge eaters don’t purge their bodies of excess calories.
Nancy McReynolds, Ph.D., is an associate within the Counseling & Consulting offi ces of Paul Tobin, Ph.D. and Ann Benjamin, M.ED. 405-340-4321, CCOffices.com.