In the United States, eating disorders account for the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Nearly 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Coupons tempt us with cheap, late-night fast-food. Tabloids frighten us with “imperfect” bodies and blurred-out faces. Billboards discourage us with “perfect” bodies offering liposuction. Should we eat or not? Are we supposed to gain or lose weight?
We need food to live. Unlike drugs and alcohol, abstinence from food is not an option. Eating disorders seem to be one of the most downplayed illnesses that afflict our country. The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) provided the above statistics. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) provides the following definitions, warning signs, and statistics (unless otherwise specified):
20 percent of people who suffer from anorexia nervosa will die prematurely due to heart failure, organ failure, malnutrition, or suicide. “Anorexia is characterized by extreme thinness, relentless pursuit of thinness, intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image and self-esteem, lack of menstruation among girls and women, and extremely restricted eating.”
The warning signs of anorexia are “thinning of bones (osteoporosis), brittle hair and nails, dry and yellowish skin, growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo), mild anemia, muscle wasting and weakness, severe constipation, low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse, damage to the structure and function of the heart, brain damage, multi-organ failure, drop in internal body temperature, lethargy, and infertility.”
Anorexia is not usually listed as the cause of death, but rather the medical complications brought on by the disease. According to a study done for the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2009, the mortality rates were 4 percent for anorexia, 3.9 percent for bulimia and 5.2 percent for eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).
“Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.” Females 15-24 years old are 12 times more likely to die from anorexia than any other cause. (NCS)
Approximately 50 percent of anorexics become bulimic. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a loss of control while consuming a substantial amount of food. This binge-eating is then compensated by one or more of the following: forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting or excessive exercise. This behavior is usually done secretly because it goes hand-in-hand with shame and disgust. This cycle could happen anywhere from a few times a week to multiple times a day.
People who suffer from bulimia often have a healthy weight or are slightly overweight. However, they are similar to those with anorexia because they typically fear gaining weight, obsess about losing weight, and are rarely satisfied with their body size and shape.
The warning signs of bulimia are “chronically inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area, worn tooth enamel, increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid, acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems, intestinal distress, and irritation from laxative abuse, severe dehydration from purging of fluids, and electrolyte imbalance of minerals which can lead to heart attack.”
Binge-eating disorder is characterized by a loss of control while eating large portions of food, but is not followed by anything to counteract it. Therefore, people who suffer from binge-eating disorder are typically over-weight or obese. Obesity and binge-eating disorder combined lead to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and high blood-pressure. The guilt and shame surrounding binge-eating can lead to more binge-eating, pulling sufferers along a downward spiral.
Men and women
Despite popular opinion, eating disorders affect both men and women. However, men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because they may believe that they’re “women’s diseases”. Men account for about 10 to 15 percent of people with either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Among homosexual men, over 20 percent showed signs of anorexia and almost 14 percent showed signs of bulimia.
Bread from Heaven
Jesus says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10). In Joel 2:25-27, God promises to restore what was lost and to never allow his people to be put to shame. Only 1 in 10 people receive treatment for an eating disorder and 35 percent of those attend a specialized facility. It’s time to beat the statistics by reaching out! Medication and therapy can help to reverse these behaviors and symptoms.
Mercy Ministries in Santa Rosa, FL, is a Christ-centered facility for young women 13 to 28 and comes highly recommended. They can be reached at 1-615-831-6987 or [email protected] About.com voted Canopy Cove in Tallahassee, FL, to be one of the top four Christ-centered treatment programs. This facility accommodates teens and adults and can be reached at 1-800-236-7524. Brokenbelievers.com also has a list of 24-hour crisis phone numbers for eating disorders, including the ANAD helpline at 630-577-1330.
Sasha Richardson is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected]