Help With Eating Disorders
For those not suffering from them, eating disorders can be very difficult to understand. They are a complex set of behaviors such as reduction in food intake, extreme exercise, or extreme overeating. Despite years of research to discovery their true underlying cause, there is still so much about these particular disorders that we just do not understand. What we do know is that eating disorders are not simply a lack of will power or purely attention seeking behavior. They are real, treatable illnesses that affect the physical and mental health of those that engage in the associated behaviors.
Eating Disorder Facts
There are three major eating disorders. These are:
- Anorexia - a voluntary starvation.
- Bulimia - Includes bouts of binging followed by a compensatory behavior such as purging and/or use of laxatives to rid the body of the food.
- Binge Eating - Episodes of out of control gorging on food.
These complex conditions are often accompanied by depression and characteristics of perfectionism.
Eating Disorder Statistics
It is estimated that more than eight million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Of these, approximately seven million are believed to be female and one million male. Furthermore, it is believed that nearly half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder. This is a very startling statistic, particularly when you consider that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses with approximately 20% of those suffering dying from their disease.
Eating disorders do not discriminate when it comes to age, gender, ethnicity, or social/economic status. It is seen across all populations. It is, however, more prevalent in some populations than in others. For instance, approximately 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. When comparing genders, females are much more likely to suffer from an eating disorder, however, males are far less likely to seek treatment. This is because of the misconception that eating disorders are "women's diseases." With the steady increase of male victims within recent years, eating disorders are slowly being accepted as a non-discriminative disorder and male treatment facilities are slowly emerging.
Of the eating disorder statistics, the most disheartening has to be that only 1 in 10 people suffering get treatment. Though eating disorders are highly treatable, treatment is also highly expense at an estimated $500 to $2,000 per day. The average cost of a month of inpatient treatment is $30,000 (the average individual with an eating disorder will need 3-6 months of inpatient treatment). Typically, health insurance companies do not cover this very costly treatment (please see Affordable Treatment for Eating Disorders below).
Eating Disorder Statistics By Disorder
Estimated to affect approximately .5% - 2% of the U.S. population
Estimated to affect approximately 1% - 4% of the U.S. population
Estimated to affect up to 25 million Americans
An estimated .5% - 3.7% of women suffer from anorexia in their lifetime
An estimated 1.1% - 4.2% women have bulimia in their lifetime
An estimated 2% - 5% of Americans experiene binge-eating in a 6 month period
5-15% of people with Anorexia Are Male
5% - 15% of those suffering from bulimia are male
40% of those suffering from binge eating are men
20% of those suffering from anorexia die as a result of the disease
10% of those suffering from bullimis die as a result of the disease
More than 300,000 people die every year from binge eating disorder.
Approximately 90% of those suffering from anorexia are women ages 12 - 25
13% of high school girls purge
Seen more often in adults age 46 to 55
40% chance of complete recovery for those who seek treatment
50% chance of complete recovery for those who seek treatment
80% of those treated for binge eating will recover completely
Anorexia Facts, Signs, and Symptoms
Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is an eating disorder in which people literally starve themselves. For those who suffer from this disorder, food and weight are an obsession. The compulsions that accompany anorexia may cause strange eating rituals. These individuals often refuse to eat in front of others. They may prepare great feasts for family and friends and then decline to partake of any themselves. They may also engage in extreme exercise as a way of ensuring the weight stays off.
Though each individual may have a different experience with anorexia, there are some common symptoms. These include:
- low body weight (less than 85 percent of normal weight for height and age)
- intense fear of becoming obese
- distorted view of one's body weight, size, or shape; sees self as too fat, even when very underweight; expresses feeling fat, even when very thin
- refuses to maintain minimum normal body weight
- absence of menstrual cycles in females without another cause
- excessive physical activity
- denies feelings of hunger
- preoccupation with food preparation
- bizarre eating behaviors
Effects of Anorexia
Some health effects of anorexia include:
• Heart Muscle Shrinkage
• Slow and Irregular Heart Beats
• Heart Failure
• Amenorrhea (an abnormal absence of menstruation)
• Kidney Stones and Kidney Failure
• Lanugo (Development of Excessive Fine Body Hair on Face, Arms and Legs)
• Muscle Atrophy
• Delayed Gastric Emptying, Bowel Irritation
As the disease of anorexia progresses, suffers may also experience the following physical anorexia signs and symptoms:
- dry skin stays pinched when pinched and released
- abdominal pain
- intolerance to cold temperatures
- development of lanugo (fine, downy body hair)
- yellowing of the skin
Syptoms and Signs of Bulimia
Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binging and compensatory behaviors such as vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of the binge. There are three primary symptoms of bulimia. These are:
- Regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of being out of control
- Regular use of compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, diuretic or laxative abuse, fasting, or obsessive exercise
- Extreme concern with body shape and weight
It is believed that the earlier bulimia is detected the greater the chance of recovery. It is, therefore, important to be aware of the signs of bulimia. These include:
- Evidence of binge eating - for example, the disappearance of large amounts of food in a short period of time or excess wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
- Evidence of purging - for example, frequent trips to the bathroom following meals, signs of vomiting (smells, sounds, etc.), presence of laxative or diuretic packaging.
- Excessive and often rigid exercise routines.
- Unusual swelling of the jaw and cheek area
- Calluses on the knuckles or back of the hand from self-induced vomiting
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Schedule changes to accommodate binge and purge activities
- Discoloration of the teeth
- Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and the control of food have become a primary concern
Effects of Bulimia
Some health effects of bulimia include:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- heart arrhythmia
- heart failure
- Teeth erosion and cavities
- Damage and irritation in the throat, esophagus, and stomach
- Laxative dependency
- Emetic Toxicity
As with all eating disorders, the exact cause of bulimia is unknown. No single theory has been able to explain why one person develops bulimia while another person with a similar profile does not. No one theory can successful account for each symptom or explain the wide range and variety of people affected by the disease. Distorted notions of body image, societal pressures to look a certain way, and a need to feel in control are often sited as reasons why those suffering from bulimia engage in this compulsive behavior. It is also believed that many binge eat as a source of emotional comfort and then feel they must purge in order to maintain their weight.
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Effects of Binge Eating
Some health effects of binge eating include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood preassure
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Gallbladder diesease
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
Binge Eating Facts
Of all the eating disorders, binge eating is the most common. While it is true that most of us overeat from time to time (and we may even feel guilty about it), this does not necessarily mean that we are suffering from a binge eating disorder. People who suffer from a binge eating disorder typically eat large amounts of food and feel their eating is out of control. When binging these individuals typically eat more quickly and will eat until they are uncomfortably full. They eat these great amounts of food even when they are not hungry. They are often embarrassed by the amounts of food they consume and will, therefore, eat alone with only their feelings of shame, guilt, and depression to keep them company.
People who suffer from bulimia will engage in binge eating as part of their unhealthy eating disorder cycle. This binge is typically followed by vomiting, fasting, or some other behavior designed to compensate for or expel the food consumed. The goal for an individual with bulimia is to prevent weight gain. For those suffering from binge eating disorder, however, weight gain is very common.
Researchers have found that alcohol abuse, impulsive behavior, and feelings of being disconnected from their communities are also typical characteristics of the binge eater. They are more often to report that they do not feel in charge of themselves and tend to be either unaware of their feelings or unable to talk about them.
Resources for Finding Affordable Treatment
You may find the following resources useful as you search for affordable and effective treatment:
Eating Disorder Survival Guide - A resource for patients and families containing tips for dealing with insurance companies and finding affordable treatment.
The Foundation for Health Coverage Education - If you have no medial insurance, this foundation may be able to help you determine if you are eligible for free or low-cost health coverage.
Affording Treatment for Eating Disorders
Although there are many barriers to accessing professional treatment for eating disorders, those who are committed to recovery can quite often find a way to engage in treatment. Many insurance companies will not cover the cost of treatment or will not cover the level or duration of treatment required. There are treatment programs out there that assists those with no money or benefits, however, these an be quite hard to find. Many have been successful in finding therapists who are will to provide treatment on a sliding scale fee and some facilities receive public funding in order to provide low cost or no cost treatment.
You must be diligent and persistent in your search for treatment. Some universities, hospitals, and clinics may offer free research programs, offering free treatment as participation in their study. Psychiatric departments in medical schools or counseling centers at your work or school may also be able to provide treatment or know of other avenues that may assist you.
The number of people who successfully recover from an eating disorder without professional treatment is unknown. Though professional help is always the most recommended plan for success, there are self help books that can be useful during the recovery process.