Eating disorders affect five times as many people as schizophrenia, and twice as many people who have Alzheimer’s disease. And yet Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia regularly make the news and research headlines, while eating disorders are relegated to the equivalent of the back pages of the public’s interest in mental health.
Sadly, eating disorders receive significantly less research funding than either schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s, for no good reason. People with an eating disorder no more “ask for it” than someone “asks” for schizophrenia. Yet schizophrenia received $350 million in research funding in 2005, while eating disorders received less than 10 percent of that amount. We clearly have a lot of work to do.
Somewhere between 3 to 4 percent of the population suffers from an eating disorder in any given year, but this statistic hides a troubling fact. Millions more go on and off diets every month as though they were fashion fads. In the U.S., we face an epidemic of obesity and over-eating. Every day our children are assaulted with images idealizing thin to the detriment of creating a healthy relationship with one’s body self-image and food.
Eating disorders may be misunderstood as only encompassing those people who have bulimia or anorexia. But eating disorders are far more common than that. Binge eating and over-eating are both commonly experienced problems that likely affect millions who may never seek out treatment for them. In fact, it’s likely most people know of a person who suffers from an eating disorder (even if the person has never told anyone). And it’s not just women who suffer from them. While eating disorders affect mostly women, over one million men in the U.S. also suffer from an eating disorder.
This week has been designated as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. And lucky for all of us, we have a fantastic blogger — Margarita Tartakovsky — who covers eating disorders and self-image on her blog, Weightless.
We also have the honor of publishing Wendy Su McWhorter-Finney’s personal story with anorexia and bulimia, A Chance to Live, as well as Lisa W.’s story, The Eating Disorder Beast Can Be Beaten. I encourage you to check out these personal stories and see how devastating eating disorders can be.
The good news is that eating disorders — like all mental disorders — can be successfully treated. While it may take time, patience, and finding the right treatment provider, eating disorders are not something a person just has to “learn to live with.” Successful treatment of eating disorders most often includes specialized psychotherapy (with an experienced therapist in eating disorders, sometimes in a specialized eating disorder clinic or treatment center) and medications.
Read more about the myths and facts surrounding eating disorders: NEDA Week: It’s Time to Talk About Eating Disorder Myths and Facts on the Weightless blog.