It’s 2019, and by now everyone knows what they need to know about eating disorders and we don’t need to raise awareness, right? Of course not. Why? Because:
- At least one person every 62 minutes dies from an eating disorder in the United States alone. (Unfortunately, I, and many of you reading this, know of well over 62 people who have died)
- Mortality rates for bulimia and other specified feeding or eating disorder (“OSFED”) are similar to, and higher, than those for anorexia. (Unfortunately, many people do not even know what OSFED is)
- Food restriction is not just something people with anorexia suffer -it can be a symptom that is endured by sufferers of all types of eating disorders, including binge eating disorder. Food restriction is dangerous and can lead to bradycardia, orthostatic hypotension, congestive heart failure, and sudden death -no matter the size of the person. (Even if the body looks ‘fine’ on the outside, organ failure can be happening on the inside)
- Suicide is one of the leading causes of death of those who suffer eating disorders. (I cannot count the tears that I have shed over friends who have died this way)
It’s 2019 and those are just a few of the statistics that demonstrate why we still need to raise awareness about eating disorders. It’s 2019 and parents and medical professionals, to no fault of their own, still have little to zero training about the dangers of eating disorders, including subclinical eating disorders.
It’s 2019 and many Medical Directors at insurance companies still seemingly believe that people suffering from eating disorders do not need intensive treatment because they feel patients are choosing to suffer, could stop if they wanted to, are just seeking attention, or aren’t really that sick because their BMI and blood work looks fine on paper. Here’s something to consider: In the 18 years I suffered, my blood work was always fine -except for one time when my potassium was 3.2 (which my doctor didn’t even know was potentially dangerous). My blood work looked fine but I was: using laxatives, purging several times a day, restricting what I ate, running, drinking excessive alcohol, purging more, restricting more…but I looked fine and according to the scale, I wasn’t anorexic. At my worst, I was ‘only’ 10-pounds under my genetically natural and healthy weight -yet my body was shutting down and I was dying. When I finally attempted to get help, insurance denied me treatment saying that I was, “One pound overweight in order to be hospitalized.” It’s 2019 and that type of insurance denial still happens to people, on a daily basis.
It’s 2019 and for the most part, society has come to recognize that opioid addiction is not a choice, alcoholism is not a choice, PTSD is not a choice, depression is not a choice, Alzheimer’s is not a choice, cancer is not a choice. But it’s 2019 and society has yet to fully evolve and recognize that: EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT A CHOICE. Somehow, in 2019, eating disorders are not only still viewed by some as a disease of choice, but they are also still seen as somewhat innocuous. Innocuous in that too many people still think that everyone suffers a little bit of an eating disorder in that: everyone dislikes their body, everyone diets, everyone binges, etc. That type of thinking is dangerous and perpetuates the myth that eating disorders are relatively benign. Does everyone who goes on diet develop an eating disorder? No. Much like not everyone who drinks a glass of wine becomes an alcoholic. Yet we view alcoholism as dangerous because we know, thanks to campaigns that raised awareness, that alcoholism can be fatal, it is dangerous, it has serious medical consequences and people deserve treatment. Of course, no disease is comparable, but there are some comparisons that can be helpful as we work to raise awareness of the seriousness of eating disorders. Consider this: Alcoholism and eating disorders go hand in hand and combined, exponentially increase the risk of premature mortality (death).
All of this begs the questions: “Why, in 2019, is not enough attention paid to THE DEADLIEST of ALL mental illnesses? Why isn’t every medical student being trained on eating disorders?” That is a complicated question to fully answer. Answering the question involves not only looking at research funding and prevalence, but also at our own internal perceptions and biases about weights and bodies.
- Perhaps not enough attention is paid to eating disorders partly because eating disorders are not opioids; eating disorders are not alcohol; eating disorders are not meth; eating disorders are not a disease of a substance that our society has deemed bad, illegal or ugly.
- Perhaps not enough attention is paid to eating disorders partly because so many still find it acceptable to encourage a person to do whatever it takes to make their body look socially acceptable.
- Perhaps not enough attention is paid to eating disorders because there remains a great deal of under-education. Consider this: When I presented to first and second-year med students at the University in Michigan, a group of students approached me after the brief 50-minute lecture and said, “Thank you. We have had 14 presentations on obesity this semester -this was the first time someone has talked to us about eating disorders.”Consider this: If we continue to base the need for adequate training of medical students on the body weight of patients (obesity) versus on what a patient’s symptoms are, eating disorders will continue to kill and Medical Directors of insurance companies will continue to justify looking at BMI and weight when determining who gets treatment and who doesn’t.
- Perhaps not enough attention is paid to eating disorders because of irrational fears. Fear that eating disorders can take too long to treat, fear that, despite treatment, people will never get better, fear that it costs too much to treat eating disorders. If we let fears determine fate, we will continue to lose precious lives like Anna, Leslie, Nicole, Jennifer, Michael, at an extraordinary rate.
Examining the reasons why behind these, and more, questions about eating disorders is vitally important. Part of the way we can address the questions and raise awareness is through advocacy. Thankfully, in 2019, there are a lot of options to choose from to help advocate and raise awareness -from eating disorder walks, to lobbying Congress, to fighting back against insurance denials.
At Kantor & Kantor, we advocate and believe in raising awareness, not only so that insurance might one day finally stop denying treatment, but also because we believe that no one should be dying from eating disorders, especially not one person every 62 minutes. It’s 2019 and we need to raise awareness because that death rate is simply UNACCEPTABLE.
On behalf of each person whose life became a statistic, we encourage you to raise awareness by sharing this blog. Perhaps by 2020 everyone will know that eating disorders are serious, those suffering deserve treatment, and people CAN recover.