The eating disorder that usually gets the most attention from the media is anorexia nervosa because of the extreme appearance of some people who develop it. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where the sufferer is driven to lose as much weight as possible through restriction of calories. Some of the most visible sufferers of anorexia may weigh less than 100 pounds despite having an average height well above five feet tall. However, every person who suffers from anorexia isn’t outwardly emaciated, nor is every person diagnosed with anorexia a female.
The National Institutes of Health reveals that the behaviors associated with anorexia nervosa may go much further than the restriction of calories. People with anorexia may exhibit behaviors similar to bulimia, such as self-induced vomiting, and they may also exhibit strange eating habits like not wanting to eat in anyone else’s company. Sufferers may also use diet pills to excess, as well as take water pills and diuretics to lose “weight,” even if the weight loss is just the body’s natural water.
The complications associated with anorexia are just as frightening as those that bulimics may develop. An anorexic person may see their white blood cells decrease, which may lead to more frequent sickness. Anorexics are also at risk for malnutrition, tooth decay, thyroid problems, and seizures. One of the most dangerous consequences of anorexic behavior is low potassium in the blood, which can cause heart problems. The obsession many anorexics have with their condition often means long-term treatment in a residential facility is necessary.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Out of all the eating disorders that may cause life-threatening complications and death, binge eating disorder (BED) is the worst one of all because it affects more people than any other eating disorder in the United States. According to the Centers of Disease Control, more than 78.6 million adults and 12.7 million children are obese thus suffering from binge eating disorder. This equates to about 1 out of 3 people.
In contrast, a study published with Biological Psychiatry reveals the rate of anorexia at 0.9 percent in women and 0.3 percent in men. With 308 million people in the United States, that translates to 1.9 million people suffering from anorexia.
It’s common to assume that most people who suffer from eating disorders are thin and starving, but binge eating disorder affects people of many socioeconomic groups, genders, and ages. According to LiveStrong, a binge might equal a few thousand calories eaten in a single sitting, which is what normal eaters may eat over the course of an entire day. A person with BED might stop by McDonald’s for a binge and order a Double Quarter Pounder (780 calories), a large French fries (510 calories), a large Coca-Cola (280 calories), and an M&M McFlurry for dessert (650 calories). That’s 2,220 calories in just a single meal, and the amount of food isn’t even an extraordinary amount for many people in the United States.
People with severe BED might binge even more throughout the day and consume thousands more calories. For example, a person might start the day with a Lumberjack Slam with hash browns and a glass of orange juice at Denny’s (1580 calories), swing by McDonald’s at lunch for that Quarter Pounder meal (2200 calories), and get a sugary sweet mocha latte from Starbucks (450 calories) that afternoon. That evening, he or she might eat half a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut (around 1480 calories) and wash it down with a couple beers (400 calories). That’s around 6,130 calories in one day from popular restaurants where many people eat every single day and more than 1,000 calories from drinks alone! That menu is three times the amount of food a full-grown, 200-pound man needs each day to maintain his 200-pound frame.
For people with BED, feelings of depression and disgust may follow a large binge, which often helps fuel future bingeing activity, even when the person isn’t hungry. While a person suffering from binge eating disorder may appear normal in regular company, his or her habits behind closed doors may lead to several frightening health problems including diabetes, kidney disease, and heart failure. BED can also cause a person to gain weight and become obese. Harvard’s School of Public Health calls obesity an epidemic that isn’t just killing adults, but is harming children, too, with a third of children ages 2 to 19 classified as overweight or obese. Binge eating disorder and obesity are public health crises that demand immediate attention.
Despite the fact that tens of millions of people around the country suffer from eating disorders, there is still a stigma attached to disorders like bulimia and binge eating disorder. Simply talking about eating disorders is difficult, particularly because so many people who suffer from them are young women in their teens who lack self-confidence. Funding, too, is much scarcer for the study of these conditions and their causes versus other issues. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health budget for eating disorders research was $34 million.
That money represents just over a dollar in funding per person who is suffering or has suffered from an eating disorder in the United States. Funding for prostate cancer, on the other hand, was at $254 million in 2014 with the American Cancer Society expecting around 220,800 new cases in 2015. That’s $1,150 spent per expected case of prostate cancer. Funding for maladies like breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes reaches hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but research into eating disorders remains low, comparatively.
Fortunately, there are dedicated psychologists and doctors currently researching eating disorders and developing solutions for the future. However, anyone experiencing any of the disorders described herein should consult with a licensed medical professional and enter into a supervised treatment plan immediately.