More than 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders (EDs) – regardless of their age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.
One person dies every 60 minutes from an ED. Not only do they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, but 30 percent of anorexic patients and 23 percent of bulimics reported a history of suicidal attempts, according to Eating Disorders Review.
Is it possible to have the condition but not realize it? “It is typical for people to engage in behaviors associated with EDs but don’t acknowledge it,” Dr. Allison K. Chase, Executive Director of the Eating Recovery Center in Austin, says. “They just don’t see it that way and don’t realize how bad it is.”
Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the country – 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men have it. A person can consume between 10,000 and 20,000 calories worth of food during a binge. In comparison, a normal diet for an average person is about 2,000 calories a day.
“We are not talking about eating a lot in a social setting,” Dr. Chase says, such as during the Super Bowl or on Christmas Day. “This is about eating a lot in a short period of time, usually alone, with an out of control feeling,” she adds.
It is crucial to understand that eating disorders are not a more serious version of an expression of vanity; they are a mental illness that can cause serious physical consequences. EDs usually start out as being about looks, Dr. Chase says. But the situation can quickly progress to dangerous levels. They have a biological basis as well, she adds.
People with an eating disorder can be very secretive because they often want to hold on to the ED as a coping mechanism, Dr. Chase says. This makes it very hard for others to detect a problem. “It often takes a regular checkup at the doctor’s office to notice.”