Eating disorders affect 11 million Americans

Eating disorders affect 11 million Americans

October 24th, 2009 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Shape

After Jan Robinson lost her 26-year-old daughter to heart failure from her eating disorders, she founded an organization that would alert people to the risks of not treating the illness.

"I don't want people to go through what she went through," Ms. Robinson said. "I didn't take (her eating disorders) serious enough until she almost died the first time."

When Ms. Robinson finally realized how serious her daughter's illness was, she got her help, but Mary Cameron Robinson died several years later.

In 2006, Ms. Robinson and her best friend, Ashley Yates, founded the Mary Cameron Robinson Foundation for the prevention of eating disorders. The foundation focuses on educating the Chattanooga area about eating disorders by offering information though a Web site and pamphlets and visiting high and middle schools.

About 11 million people in America suffer from an eating disorder, most commonly anorexia and bulimia, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action, a Washington, D.C.-based group.


The shame that follows a person fighting an eating disorder can cause many to avoid treatment, said Corey Emerick, primary counselor for the Center of Eating Disorders at Focus Healthcare of Tennessee.

"Most people have struggles with their body weight," Ms. Emerick said. "We all over-eat or under-eat at times."

The key to recognizing an eating disorder is noticing a compulsive behavior that could include purging after eating, misusing diet pills or laxatives, over exercising or overeating then starving oneself on a regular basis, she said.

Anorexia is "an altered state of perception" in which the person sees herself or himself as overweight, regardless of reality, said Dr. Veronica Gunn, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health, and the usual behaviors include strict calorie counting and diet restrictions,

Bulimia, on the other hand, usually includes binge eating followed by purging, she said.

Eating disorders are recognized as a mental illness and usually coexist with anxiety or depression, said Sarah Lingo, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Development Disabilities spokeswoman.

One reason young women seem to struggle more with the disorder is the pressure society puts on them to look beautiful and thin, Ms. Emerick said.

"As a society, we're obsessed with body image," she said.


But it's not just a question of how someone looks, Ms. Emerick said, because prolonged eating disorders can be deadly.

Lack of nutrition after a period of time can cause imbalances in hormones, muscle shrinkage and kidney and heart failure, Dr. Gunn said, while purging can cause electrolyte imbalances that lead to heart failure, brain malfunction and problems to kidneys and the liver.

"Significant eating disorders can effect every organ in the body," she said.

If you see any signs that someone is struggling with an eating disorder, the best approach is to ask in a concerned manner with an "I statement," Ms. Emerick said.

When you say, "I am concerned about you," instead of "You have a problem," a person will usually respond better if the language is not accusing them, she said.

If a someone is compulsively struggling with an eating disorder it is important for them to get professional help because "it's such a hard thing to break and it can be really deadly," she said.

Eating disorder facts

* About 11 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder

* An estimated 90 percent are adolescent and young woman, though men and other adults also suffer

* Nearly half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder

* Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents

* Eating disorders are increasing in younger age groups, as young as 7 years old

* 40 percent to 60 percent of high school girls diet

* 13 percent of high school girls purge

Source: Eating Disorders Coalition