eating disorders

Eating Disorder Awareness Month

TW: For mentions of eating disorders and suicide. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 24 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. These are mental health conditions in which there is a persistent disturbance of eating behavior and impairment of physical or mental health. Eating disorders, which include Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia, and Avoidant Restrictive Eating Disorder, are one of the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid addiction. During Eating Disorder Awareness Month, Dr. Bitner joins the Fox 17 team to shed light on these mental health illnesses and remove the stigma surrounding eating disorders.

Fact #1: 

There are specific guidelines for diagnosing eating disorders, which can be severe and life-threatening. In extreme cases, women become very ill or die due to medical complications or suicide. Eating disorders lead to 10,200 deaths each year. Many women with eating disorders also have a high incidence of experiencing anxiety disorder. For as serious and prevalent as these disorders are, only around half of the women who suffer ever get treatment.

Fact #2:

According to the NIH, Binge Eating Disorder involves episodes in which a person loses control over their eating and experiences distress. Women who suffer from this condition do not purge or exhibit excessive behavior to immediately lose weight and often suffer from obesity. The average age of onset is 21.

Fact #3:

Anorexia Nervosa is defined as the persistent and significant reduction in food intake. Women with anorexia have extremely low body weight as compared to others of the same age, sex, and physical health. Women who are experiencing anorexia struggle with body dysmorphism, thinking they are overweight even when they are very thin. There are also correlations between having low self-esteem and anxiety and developing anorexia. The average age of onset is 18 years of age.

Fact #4:

Bulimia involves episodes of binge eating followed by compensating behaviors such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these. Individuals experiencing bulimia may appear to be underweight, normal weight, or even overweight. The average age of onset is 12-15 years of age.

Fact #5:

Recognition and treatment matters. 15% of women will suffer from disordered eating by age 40. Most people who have an eating disorder have their first episode by age 25. Early treatment can help to prevent relapse and avoid extreme health consequences, such as death.

Fact #6:

Treatment is possible. For Anorexia and Bulimia, treatment consists of psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy, treatment of underlying anxiety or depression, nutritional counseling, and supervised weight gain. Binge Eating Disorder is treated through a combination of addressing underlying mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression and treating the health effects frequently associated with obesity. This includes high blood pressure, prediabetes, and high cholesterol. Using newer medications such as GLP-1 injectables can help reduce hunger-centered actions.

Patient Story: 

Jane was 32 years old and had difficulty hitting her stride. She struggled with low energy and motivation, sadness, depression, loneliness and came home from work exhausted. Jane wanted to call her friends, but they always seemed happy and busy. She felt like she could not keep up! At work, Jane ate healthily, packing her lunch each day. After work, though, she would go to the store to purchase groceries. Once home, Jane would start to eat through all her groceries uncontrollably, often eating most of the groceries she had intended to use for an entire week. Jane was disgusted with herself, too full to move, and hated herself for constantly “being weak.”

Thankfully, Jane’s sister had her come in for an appointment. During her appointment, Jane spoke about her shame and desire to be happy and energetic again. She felt lost in her binge eating. Jane began seeing a therapist to learn more about her triggers for binge eating. She also started an ADHD medication used for treating binge eating disorders. Naming her condition and seeing it as a treatable mental health condition (not a personal failure or weakness) renewed Jane’s hope that she would get her life back again.

Health Tip of the Week: 

Recognize that eating disorders are mental health disorders. They are not the result of personal failure or weakness and are, instead, often tied to anxiety and depression disorders. Do not feel shame, and know that you are not alone. Treatment is possible! 

Watch the full segment.