By Rachel Rucker
Robert Frost once wrote, “The best way out is always through.”
The best and only way to come out on the other side of an eating disorder is to go through it. Those of us who have had an eating disorder touch our lives, whether it be directly or indirectly, had to go through every painful, isolated moment in order to hopefully one day overcome it. Although there are several different theories reguarding how and why eating disorders occur in different people, I tend to think of an eating disorder in the same manner as alcoholism. It is a disease, through and through. It can be situational, hereditary and it’s not something that can necessarily be “cured.” I know this, because I’ve been through it. And luckily, with the help of my family and friends, I did eventually find my way out.
My hope in writing this is that there will not only be an increased awareness of eating disorders, but that more people will also become aware of the problems they, or someone they know, face every day, so that they can get help before it becomes too late.
The term “eating disorder” envelops many different singular diseases, which are all related under a conscious or unconscious need to lose weight. The most widely noted and well known are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder. Although there are a number of unspecified eating disorders, which cause disruptions in a person’s life, these have been most prevalent in our society, which must be addressed in order to help people who are suffering now, and provide hope for future generations.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, about eight million people have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, making up approximately three percent of the entire population. One million of those cases will die from complications of the disease. Eating disorders are responsible for the most fatalities of all mental illnesses, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). One of the most difficult problems in researching eating disorders, however, is that there are millions of people who suffer and are not included in any statistics, because they are not reported. Deaths that occur are almost never attributed to having an eating disorder; rather, the causes are usually what come as a result of the disorder itself.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Madeline Smith, a self-taught expert on eating disorders, who has a passion for uncovering the truth and trying to find a remedy. Distraught and determined to find the best treatment for her painfully thin granddaughter, Madeline began to devour anything related to eating disorders, from causes to cures.
One of the most interesting things I’ve found in combining Madeline’s research with my own is how an eating disorder can begin in the first place. A huge misconception is that a person develops an eating disorder because they are severely dissatisfied with their physical appearance. Because of my personal experience, I know this is not the case. Madeline agreed with me, saying there are a myriad of factors, which can become the basis for the beginnings of an eating disorder. Some of these factors include an emotionally traumatic experience, abusive situations, pressure from the media, sport requirements and pressures, and of course, discontent with self-image.
Through her research, Madeline found that the two most prevalent causes of death from this disease are heart failure and suicide. These deaths, however, are never attributed to an eating disorder. The cause of death is concluded as heart failure or suicide. Because of the ambiguity of finding an ultimate reason of death, it is increasingly difficult to determine how many people are actually suffering and have ultimately given their life to an eating disorder.
Caitlyn Hamilton, Media & Communications Manager at NEDA, said one of the setbacks in raising awareness and prevention for eating disorders is that it is largely misconstrued as a teenage girl’s disease. “It’s not just for girls, and it’s not just for women. Eating disorders do not discriminate gender, age, race or any of the like. It really is everyone’s disease,” Caitlyn said.
Not only do eating disorders not discriminate among their victims, they do much more than just affect the person that is anorexic, bulimic, etc. “It doesn’t just affect the patient, it affects the entire family,” said Madeline. It’s a disease that hurts to watch, mainly because it’s so personal and so extremely difficult to break through without institutionalization. The circle that is around the person suffering is vitally important to how their story ends. There are no words to describe how lucky I am to have people around me that cared so much, that pulled me out of that darkness so that I could not only get through to the other side, but am now able to write about it in a way that will hopefully open the eyes of those who are in the same position I was in.
Having an eating disorder is not something that should be shameful, or locked up behind closed doors. If we all do everything we can to bring this problem to light, our chances of saving the lives of today’s victims, as well as those of the future generations, will increase exponentially. All it takes is a little perseverance and a whole lot of love.
Some facts and experiences used as evidence in this article were gathered from a knowledgeable, concerned grandmother, whom we have chosen to rename Madeline Smith to maintain her and her family’s privacy.
What are some of the physical symptoms?
• Lanugo (Fuzzy body hair in an attempt to keep the body warm)
• Hair thinning/Hair loss
• Obsessive mannerisms
• Loss of menstruation
• Perception of being overweight despite being underweight
• Hypothermia (Extreme intolerance to cold)
What are some of the emotional symptoms?
• Denial of hunger
• Isolation from normal activities
• Excessive, compulsive exercising routines
• Ritualistic eating habits
How Can I Help?
Join in the National Eating Disorders Association’s Need Awareness Week from Feb. 22-28. Their goal is to spotlight the importance of public understanding and awareness pertaining to eating disorders, as well as their triggers and treatments. NEDA’s hope is to encourage early detection and intervention, increasing the likelihood of full recoveries from more victims. The Feeding Hope Fund is raising restricted funds designated to the distinct purpose of providing grants to help research eating disorders and help give victims hope for their life.