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5 Facts to Set the Record Straight on Eating Disorders

5 Facts to Set the Record Straight on Eating Disorders

Posted Mar 01, 2013 by Author

There are many misconceptions about eating disorders, who gets them and how they should be treated. In recognition of this exceptionally harmful and sometimes fatal disease, we would like to set the record straight with five important facts.

1. Eating disorders affect people of all ages

There’s a tendency to view disordered eating as a problem exclusive to teenage girls. These generalizations are not unfounded when you consider statistics such as these from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

  • 95 percent of those with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
  • Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents
  • 86 percent report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43 percent report onset between ages 16 and 20

However, eating disorders can be found in everyone, from young children to the elderly. And the number of middle-age and older womenwith eating disorders seems to be on the rise, according to reports from news outlets such as Huffington Post and CNN. Last year, a study of 1,849 women 50 and older published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found mid-life eating disorders to be more common than many thought. The American Medical Association’s amednews.com reported that, in the past decade, the Renfrew Center saw a 42 percent in the number of women over age 35 seeking treatment at its clinics.

2. Men suffer from eating disorders, too

Eating disorders are often thought to be a woman’s disease, but men suffer from them as well. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of those with anorexia and bulimia in the United States are male.

Last year, The Atlantic ’s “The Silent Victims,” drew attention to the growing number of male eating disorders and suggested that stigma and lack of specialized treatment programs were behind their reluctance to seek help. The National Eating Disorder Association wascited as reporting that 1 million men suffer from eating disorders, but only 10 percent of them seek treatment. Eating Disorder Hope echoes this increase and states that boys as young as 8 are being diagnosed with anorexia and that 40 percent of binge-eating disorders are found now in men.

While organizations like ANAD and the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness offer resources for all populations who want help, the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders is a male-specific resource for treatment referrals, support and information.

3. Recovery requires more than food

Maybe the solution seems simple: Just eat. It’s not. Recovery will likely address many facets of health and wellness, and treatment plansvary depending on the type of eating disorder, its severity, and an individual’s specific needs.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists adequate nutrition, reducing excessive exercise and stopping purging behaviors as the foundations of treatment. Medication, psychotherapy, talk therapy may be components of a treatment plan. Because eating disorders can cause serious harm to the body through malnutrition and place stress onbodily systems through behaviors such binging and purging, medical attention is important. In some cases, hospitalization is necessary.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Eating disorders can cause serious health problems and death. The sooner you seek treatment, thesooner you can begin living a healthier life.

4. Eating disorders affect people of all races

Young, Caucasian women who come from financially well-off homes are often the poster children for eating disorders. Organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association will tell you that this is a myth.

Just as they impact all genders and age groups, eating disorders affect all races. NEDA states that, with the exception of anorexia, the prevalence of all eating disorders is similar among non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians within the United States. Minority women are less likely to seek treatment, which makes keeping track of the numbers difficult.

5. Many factors contribute to the development of eating disorders

No single cause can be linked to the development of eating disorders. Womenshealth.gov lists the following as common contributing factors: culture, personal characteristics such as poor self-image, emotional disorders like depression, stressful events or life changes, biology, and family attitudes about appearance and diet.

Free online eating disorder screenings are available through a partnership with the National Eating Disorders Association and Screening for Mental Health. The anonymous self-assessment is available at www.mybodyscreening.org.

For additional information about eating disorders, click here for a detailed booklet from the National Institute of Mental Health.