Dispelling the Shame and Secrecy of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder Awareness Week is held annually in the United States and Canada during the month of February to raise awareness about the potentially life-threatening nature of eating disorders and the social pressures and attitudes, which contribute to them. It also aims at spreading hope that help is available and healing and recovery is possible.

Our culture’s obsession with beauty and perfection leads us in search of a narrowly defined, unattainable perfect-body ideal – Young and old, male and female alike; we fall for this mirage of perfection and promise of happiness! This never ending search for the ideal, for many leads to a life of chronic dieting and starvation, body hatred, depression, eating disorders and for some it even leads to death.

The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old. Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems

In America we spend over $40 billion, on dieting and diet-related products each year. 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women. It therefore, would be no surprise to know that 80% of the American women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

The incidence of anorexia has doubled since the 1960s and incidence of bulimia tripled between 1988 and 1993. National statistics show that 1 in 5 women suffer from an eating disorder or disordered eating. Up to 60% of college-aged students suffers from disordered eating, while 25% of college students and 11% of high school students are diagnosed with an eating disorder.

One study, at a Marin County high school in Northern Calfiornia found in 2000 that incidences of eating disorders are on the rise in our community and is at an alarming rate of nearly twice the national average, with approximately 52% of 9th grade female students suffering from some form of disordered eating, as compared to 28% of 14 year old girls nationally.

While eating Disorders are most prevalent among adolescent girls and young women, (90 percent of women with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25), eating disorders are on the rise among children, (ages 8 to 11), boys and men (10 to 15%), and older women. Furthermore, rates of minorities with eating disorders are similar to those of white women

We are currently witnessing the rising tide of eating disorders among elementary school children, which has been very disturbing. This has coincided with the rise in obesity prevention and education. Young children are exposed daily to the dangers of being overweight. Given the concrete nature of a child’s mind, children may respond to this education in unintended ways and develop an intense fear of becoming overweight and an outcast. This fear can potentially lead to an eating disorder as they try to be “good” by avoiding all “bad foods”. Though unintended, such potential consequences need to be addressed and taken into consideration by educators and health professionals promoting obesity prevention education.

It is important to note, however, that despite the rise in incidence of eating disorders in the last 50 years, eating disorders are treatable conditions. People can successfully recover, especially when it is detected early and treated during the first 6 months to a year from the onset of the illness. Great strides have been made over the last decades in developing successful treatment approaches with adults, adolescents and children.

Unfortunately, national statistics shows that still only one in ten seek and receive mental health care. We are committed to work toward removing the stigma, shame and secrecy that are often held by many people about eating disorders, which become barriers to reaching out for help and getting proper treatment. By providing community education and by expanding professional knowledge and competence in identifying and treating eating disorders, we hope to increase understanding of the eating disorder as an illness requiring proper treatment and care.

During the Eating Disorder Awareness Week, our goal is to reach as many people who battle this illness and their loved ones, as well as professionals who come in contact with them, with message of hope that with proper treatment and care, recovery is possible, help is available and they are not alone!

Eating Disorder Recovery Support, Inc. is hosting its fifth annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Petaluma, offering rich educational and experiential events for the public and professionals, on February 4, 5 & 6th. This is also a fundraising event to benefit the EDRS Treatment Scholarship Fund, which provides funds to people in need of assistance in obtaining eating disorder treatment. EDRS is a not-profit (501-c) professional organization dedicated to community education, outreach and the prevention of eating disorders. The mission is to bring awareness to the realities of eating disorders as life-threatening conditions rather than the misleading Hollywood images of Chic-anorexia.

Dr. Kashani is the President of the Eating Disorders Recovery Support, Inc, and the founder of the “Healthy Family – Healthy Weight Program for Children.” She also created and director an out-patient eating disorder program for adults and adolescents at Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael (CA). In private practice in Marin County (CA) she is a member of the California Psychological Association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Marin County Psychological Association as the Chair of the Ethics Committee. For more information about EDRS or the conference please visit http://www.edrs.net.

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