Yes, Eating Disorders can be Fatal


This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA). NEDAwareness_Logo-Color1

Unfortunately, eating disorders often get ignored, or swept under the rug.

No one wants to admit that they, a family member or friend, has an eating disorder. It also can be difficult to recognize the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder - both females AND males of all ages and sizes can suffer from an eating disorder. It takes courage to approach someone with an eating disorder, and it can be challenging to get someone help.

The truth is eating disorders are serious, life-threatening physical and mental diseases. No one "chooses" to have an eating disorder. They may choose not to talk about it or seek help because of shame, guilt, or dysmorphic thoughts and beliefs. The longer someone goes without treatment, the harder it is to recover, and unfortunately, they can be fatal.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and significant weight loss.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binging and purging, either by self-induced vomiting or over-exercising.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by a cycle of recurrent binging without compensatory measures (like purging).

Eating disorder otherwise not specific is just as important! These are characterized by the signs or symptoms of any of the above eating disorders without meeting specific criteria (i.e. loss of menstrual period).

Eating Disorders - The Danger

In the US, over 10 million women and 1 million men suffer from an eating disorder. However, only about 1 in 10 people receive treatment, which may be one of the reasons why eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of mental illnesses. Despite the high mortality, the research and research funding on eating disorders and treatment is inadequate.

With treatment, about 60% of patients will recover, but only 20% partially recover and 20% do not improve. Without treatment, about 20% of people will die compared to only 2-3% who receive treatment. Another issue is the high expenses of treating eating disorders. Some insurances may not cover residential treatment, or may only cover a few outpatient counseling sessions, but eating disorders may take months to years to fully recover (not 3 sessions).

Yes - eating disorders can kill! What happens when you no longer have no fat to breakdown? You begin to breakdown your muscle. Guess what - your heart and other organs are muscle. People may collapse or die from heart failure. Your health suffers in numerous ways for any eating disorder - or even just disordered habits, such as binging or restrictive eating.

Eating disorders are complex conditions with numerous factors that increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. These may include...

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression, loneliness, anger, anxiety, stress
  • Lack of control
  • History of abuse
  • History of being bullied, especially about weight or size
  • Cultural pressure to be thin or "skinny" or have the "perfect body" (FYI - the perfect body is healthy)
  • Genetics, biochemical, and biological mechanisms

The media plays a huge role, and it makes an impact on the minds of children as young as elementary school.

  • 42% of 1st-3rd graders reported wanting to "be thinner."
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
  • Over 50% of teenage girls and 33% of teenage boys use unhealthy measures to control their weight, including skipping meals, fasting, smoking, vomiting, or using laxative.
  • 47% of elementary school girls who read magazines say the pictures make them want to lose weight.
  • Most fashion models are unrealistically thin or underweight - 98% thinner than the average American women.
  • 9 year old children rated silhouettes of "fat figures" to be more likely to have fewer friends, less liked by their parents, less content with their appearance, and wanting to be thin.
  • The average BMI of Miss America winners has decreased from 22 (normal) in the 1920s to 16.9 (underweight) in the 2000s. Normal BMI is 18.5-25.

Why do we let magazines or advertisements air brush their ads to make their models look perfect? Why do we let the media use underweight models? Even if kids you know don't look at magazines, just hearing their parents and friends talk about dieting can influence them.

Talk About It

Eating disorders NEED to be talked about in order to get people with eating disorders, or those at risk for eating disorders, help. If you know someone with an eating disorder, forget about hurting their feelings and approach them. Do everything you can to get them help because they often don't know what is best from them. When you're in a state of starvation and constantly battling thoughts from "ED," you can't think rationally.

You can also set a good example or talk to the children or teenagers in your life to work to prevent eating disorders. Let them know that the images in magazines or on TV are altered, and a healthy body is a strong, not skinny body. When children grow up surrounded by role models that value a healthy body image and healthy lifestyle choices (vs dieting), they're more protected from media images and talk among peers.

In order to get the word spread about eating disorders, share this post or a fact from it with your Facebook or Twitter friends, or send out an email. Talk to people this week about eating disorders, especially children and adolescents, who are particularly vulnerable.

Do you know (or knew) someone with an eating disorder?

How can you take action against eating disorders?


National Eating Disorders Association

Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Association

Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders