The reality of a secret epidemic that affects nearly 24 million Americans is brought to light annually during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The goal is to raise public awareness about the causes, symptoms, and treatments available for eating disorders while putting an end to stigmas that keep victims from seeking help.
Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder are the most common types of eating disorders. Each condition involves different but equally life-threatening behaviors and all-consuming emotions.
Eating disorders can be influenced by many factors including biological, environmental, and psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, and OCD.
“What is important to note, is that despite the characteristics of an eating disorder, they are not really about food or weight,” said Sherri Theoharidis, UMKC Psychologist and Eating Disorders Treatment Team Coordinator. “They are about gaining a sense of control and managing underlying emotional or psychological issues with the eating disorder as a coping mechanism. If one is struggling with an emotional issue, access to eating disordered behavior might begin with the focus on perfectionism, body image, weight and dieting acting as a trigger.”
These are serious, bio-psycho-social illnesses and they deserve to be taken seriously. Why?Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses. According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, the mortality rate for Anorexia Nervosa is 10% and 20% including suicide.
“There are a lot of misconceptions,” Theoharidis said. “I think that as a society, we as a whole tend to take things at face value and ‘go with what we see’ therefore, if someone is not presenting as underweight or too thin, it is assumed they do not have a problem or eating disorder, or it’s discounted as ‘not that big of a deal.’”
While eating disorders can affect all ages, genders, races and social classes, they are especially prominent among college students. However, only 1 out of 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment. Reasons for not seeking treatment vary. It could be shame, denial, high treatment costs, or individuals may be unaware of the resources available.
“Many of the eating disorder behaviors, such as binging purging, and laxative use are hidden,” Theoharidis said. “As well as the eating disorder thinking of self-critical, body loathing and fear of weight gain. These are one’s private experience so unless we spread awareness, or someone is touched by an individual with these experiences, it is not well known.”
UMKC student Michaela Barrett agrees that eating disorders aren’t a commonly talked about issue, making it hard for people to reach out and get help.
Barrett grew up in the dance world where she was taught to strive for perfection. She explained that while she did not struggle with body issues herself, she knew many who did.
“Eating disorders seem to have a negative stereotype attached to them that can make people who struggle with the disorder feel ashamed,” Barrett said. “No one should feel ashamed about getting help.”
Barrett was happy to hear that UMKC students have access to many resources here on campus with individual counseling services and even an eating disorder treatment team.
“I think it’s wonderful that our campus provides specific help for their student’s needs,” Barrett said.
If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out for help. Schedule an appointment at UMKC’s counseling center by calling (816) 235-1635.