In a culture where “thin is in,” it’s not difficult to imagine that an alarming number of women and men struggle with body image disorders. Living with an eating disorder can be extremely damaging to a person’s health and, if left untreated, could be life threatening. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, February 21–27, is an opportunity to bring nationwide attention to these important issues and address common misconceptions about eating disorders.
1. An eating disorder is an obsession with food and weight that becomes extreme enough to jeopardize a person’s health. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, both of which are diagnosed medical illnesses.
2. Anorexia  is characterized by a fear of gaining weight and refusal to consume a healthy intake of calories. Physical symptoms that appear over time include osteoporosis, brittle hair and nails, anemia, lethargy, dry skin, and a drop in internal body temperature.
3. In contrast, bulimia  is characterized by frequent binge-eating (consuming large amounts of food) and a lack of control over eating habits. Binge eating is compensated by purging. Physical symptoms that result from bulimia include chronic sore throat, swollen glands, teeth sensitivity and decay, kidney complications, and severe dehydration.
4. Purging is not limited only to vomiting. Purging can also involve abuse of diuretic products or laxatives, fasting, and even excessive exercise.
5. While it is not considered a clinically recognized emotional disorder like anorexia and bulimia, binge eating (or compulsive over eating) is an equally dangerous eating issue. Binge eating can lead to high blood pressure, severe obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gall bladder disease.
6. More than 8 million people in the United States have an eating disorder. Approximately 90 percent of them are women.
7. There is no single cause of eating disorders. Genetics, coping skills, psychological issues, metabolism, culture, and other factors can contribute to a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder.
8. Twenty percent of those who suffer from an eating disorder and do not receive treatment die from their illness .
9. A person with an immediate relative who has an eating disorder is five times more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves.
10. Experts suggest that early intervention can help prevent chronic issues associated with an eating disorder, but treatment for anorexia and bulimia is expensive. The cost of inpatient treatment can reach more than $30,000 a month. Even with treatment, only half of those who suffer report a full recovery.
By Sarah Nelson for Causecast