Today in my graduate class with Dr. Nancy Rudd, we discussed the risk of eating disorders and how to gain perspective. Most people know very basic facts about eating disorders, but I wanted to share even more that I learned that really opened my eyes and allowed me to gain more empathy for those with an ED.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses associated with life threatening medical and psychiatric issues that can affect anyone, even children. The youngest person diagnosed with an ED was a 2 year old child. People with anorexia experience the highest fatality rates. But, over 60% of eating disorders are classified as EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) in a clinical setting. This means that behaviors do not fit a specific disorder. Some extreme behaviors that we discussed were mind-boggling, but very real. Eating cotton balls, cosmetics, and hair so as not to consume calories was one of them. Our professor even helped find treatment for a 14 year old girl (5’2″) that was down to 60 pounds, ate one apple, and did 200 stair climbs per day.
The highest risk sports for developing an eating disorder are gymnastics and swimming for women, and wrestling and gymnastics for men. Among others at risk sports are ballet, ice skating, cross-country, and track and field. But, one does not have to be underweight nor an athlete to be suffering from a life-threatening eating disorders.
A problem of treatment providers when treating patients with an ED is that they don’t know what to treat first. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa include the “nervosa” component in the name because it suggests an obsessive compulsive behavior associated with the eating and exercising practices. So, does a treatment provider treat the malnourishment first? Or the obsessive behavior, or the depression and anxiety? I never even knew that all these destructive behaviors were a part of an eating disorder.
In summary, ALL eating disorders are dangerous. There is also no “look” to an ED. Check out NEDA for more information or call the help hotline at 800-931-2237.