5 Things to Know About Dangerous Eating Disorders
Statistics provided by the National Eating Disorder Association estimate that approximately thirty million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Worldwide that number is more than double. The problem with statistics on eating disorders is they are often inaccurate. This is because many sufferers do not come forward and speak to a medical provider about their symptoms. As a result, many people who experience symptoms associated with an eating disorder never receive a diagnosis or proper treatment. This happens for various reasons, including stigma, denial, and misunderstanding about eating disorders among treatment providers and society.
Eating disorders are not uncommon. Worldwide, approximately 9% of the global population has an eating disorder. The same statistic (roughly 9%) is true domestically as well. Of the nearly 30 million Americans who have an eating disorder, many, up to 74%, develop the condition due to genetic or hereditary influence.
There are several misconceptions about eating disorders and eating disorder treatment. Unfortunately, the misunderstandings about eating disorders and eating disorder treatment lead many who could benefit from a therapeutic program to avoid seeking the help they need. There are many things to know about eating disorders, including details about types of eating disorders, demographics, co-occurring disorders, and eating disorder recovery.
Eating Disorders Do Not See Gender
One common (and dangerous) misconception about eating disorders is that they affect only women and young girls. Contrary to this popular opinion, approximately one in three people with eating disorder symptoms or a diagnosed eating disorder are male or identify as male. Additionally, eating disordered behavior such as binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss is nearly as common among men and teenage boys as they are among women in the same age groups.
In the United States, eating disorders will impact approximately 10 million males at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, eating disorders often manifest themselves differently in boys than in girls, so they are harder for parents and healthcare providers to detect. Social stigma and societal expectations often lead men and boys to go undiagnosed or underdiagnosed.
Men and boys who suffer from an eating disorder or eating disorder symptoms face social biases and societal stigma. As a result, men and boys are much less likely to seek treatment for their disease even when they know they need help. Several factors can lead men and boys to avoid medical intervention, including stigma and gender-biased assessment procedures.
There are Several Types Of Dangerous Eating Disorders
Although several types of eating disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, some diagnoses are more common than others. The three most common eating disorders in the United States are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
A key symptom of anorexia nervosa is the motivation to remain thin. The most common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include anxiety, low body weight, low blood pressure, altered eating habits, dehydration, and mismatched body weight perception. With a mental health treatment program, the physical and psychological effects of anorexia nervosa and its symptoms can have lasting and dangerous effects on one’s overall well-being.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms can occur at any age; however, the average age of onset is during one’s early teens or about the beginning of puberty. Recent data shows that as many as 4% of all women (regardless of age) are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in their lifetime. Because anorexia is one of the most well-known eating disorders, people often believe it is the most common, but it’s not. Some statistics suggest anorexia affects less than two percent of the American population. However, it is crucial to remember that low diagnosis rates do not indicate the potential dangers associated with anorexia nervosa.
While anorexia is characterized by severely restricted food intake, bulimia nervosa is characterized by instances of binging and purging. When someone has bulimia nervosa, they will binge-eat large amounts of food before forcibly purging the food from their body. The act of purging is typically accomplished through self-induced vomiting or laxative use. Other common symptoms of bulimia nervosa may include weight changes, anxiety, food aversions, dental hygiene problems, hunger, and bad breath. Some studies show bulimia nervosa may affect up to three percent of women and less than one percent of men. Bulimia has a mortality rate of approximately four percent.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder often confused with bulimia nervosa. It is essential to remember that the two diagnoses are different, with differing symptoms. Someone with a binge eating disorder will follow a similar pattern of binging by eating large portions of food in a short time (often within a few hours or less). But, different than bulimia nervosa, they will not engage in purging behaviors after consuming food. For someone to meet the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder, episodes of excessive food intake must occur at least once each week for a period of three months.
Binge eating disorder is statistically the most common eating disorder diagnosis in the US. Data from several studies indicate it affects approximately 2% of men and 5% of women. Binge eating disorder is also the most common illness seen in those seeking surgical weight-loss interventions. In these cases, it affects as many as 40% of individuals.
Eating Disorders Frequently Co-Occur with Substance Use Disorders
Data from the National Eating Disorders association indicates the link between eating disorders and alcohol abuse is substantial. According to statistics released by the association, the lifetime rate of eating disorders among someone with a substance use disorder is nearly eleven times that of those without a co-occurring disorder. The substance abuse rate among specific eating disorders is also quite staggering. As many as 18% of those with anorexia nervosa also have a substance use problem. For those diagnosed with bulimia, that number is as high as 50%. Rates of drug and alcohol use among those with binge eating disorders false somewhere in the middle at about 25%.
Left Untreated, Eating Disorders Can Be Deadly
Eating disorders are considered one of the deadliest mental illness diagnoses, exceeded only by opioid overdose. More than 10,000 people die each year directly from symptoms or complications related to an eating disorder. This averages out to approximately one death every 52 minutes. About 26% of people with an eating disorder, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, will attempt suicide.
Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all eating disorder diagnoses. Some statistics show it may have the highest of all mental illnesses. Data from a 2003 survey of female teens with anorexia nervosa suggested they were more than 56 times more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors, including attempting or committing suicide, when compared to those without the illness. Also, females with an anorexia diagnosis are more than twelve times more likely to die from medical complications related to anorexia than females of the same age group without the illness.
Recovery is Possible
Research shows that treatment for eating disorders is the most effective when treatment and intervention begin early in one’s illness. The longer one engages in particular symptoms related to their illness, the more challenging it is to avoid or overcome the potential medical and mental health side effects associated with an eating disorder. Successful treatment for eating disorders requires comprehensive, specialized treatment designed to help heal one’s relationship with food. For some who seek help to overcome an eating disorder, it may be necessary to seek medical treatment before beginning a therapeutic program. Medical intervention may be essential to help stabilize any significant physical challenges that may have developed from an extended period of poor nutrition. Once you are medically stable, it is possible to begin the therapeutic portion of an eating disorder treatment program.
Inpatient treatment at a specialized eating disorder treatment program like The Meadowglade often successfully addresses eating disorder symptoms. For therapy to be the most successful, it must be individualized and multifaceted. This means your treatment program must include mental health care, medical treatment, nutritional education, and ongoing counseling to help you manage relapse triggers after treatment ends.
At The Meadowglade, our experienced, compassionate team of treatment providers has many years of experience helping patients address eating disorder symptoms. Inpatient or residential programs that include evidence-based therapy models are often the most effective way to overcome eating disorders and develop a healthy relationship with food. The road to recovery from an eating disorder can be long and challenging. Still, with treatment and support, it is possible to achieve recovery while healing your medical, emotional, and spiritual health.
It is crucial to remember that an eating disorder will not “just go away” or resolve on its own without treatment. Although there may be times when symptoms are less invasive or intrusive, the illness remains. Even after completing an eating disorder treatment program, there remains the risk of symptom relapse. Therefore, it is essential to continue attending ongoing therapy appointments and following your relapse prevention program.
Although eating disorders cannot be “cured,” it is possible to achieve recovery and learn how to manage symptoms of the illness. With help and guidance from a treatment program like ours at The Meadowglade, it is possible to put the physical and psychological challenges associated with an eating disorder in the past. Contact a member of our admissions team today to learn more about our eating disorder treatment program and how we can help you move forward with a healthier relationship with food. We understand the decision to seek help may be difficult. We are here to help you through each stage of your recovery journey.