Every year five to ten million women and one million men will have been reported as having an eating disorder. Of those, 50,000 will die.
Wendy Repovich, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physical Education and Health and Recreation at Eastern spoke to a group on Tuesday entitled The Dilemma of Eating Disorders.
Repovich is the founding director of the Inland Empire Task Force on Eating Disorders. The task force was put together to provide the basics for preventing eating disorders in young men and women.
“We try to create a great network for people to use for eating disorders,” Repovich said.
The biggest problem with eating disorders, she said, is that people don’t know where to go when they have a problem.
That is why this week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It was created to enhance the awareness that there is a problem and to let people know there are places to go.
The dilemma is; American culture has cultivated the need for thinness through constant media attention. Gaunt appearance is equated with health, and success. Americans spend $30 billion dollars a year on the diet industry alone.
“The media supports the myth that weight loss is a indication of health,” Repovich said.
Those runway models are not pictures of health. Eating disorders can have serious and long-term effects on the body.
People with eating disorders can suffer from depression, anxiety, interpersonal problems, usually linked to their families, and substance abuse, to name a few.
Some other health risks associated with eating disorders include cardiovascular disease, muscle loss and weakness, electrolyte imbalance, and fatigue.
Repovich also said that persons with eating disorders are at a greater risk of having stress fractures and bone breakage, because of the low estrogen and testosterone levels in the body from lack of food, which make bones brittle and weak.
The focus of eating disorders needs to be on recognition, not just on prevention, Repovich said.
Friends and family members should be able to recognize the signs of eating disorders in order to help prevent the sickness.
There are two types of common eating disorders to be aware of, anorexia and bulimia.Anorexia is the inability to maintain normal body weight. A person with anorexia is unable to see him or herself at a normal weight.
Some of the warning signs of an anorexic might be the significant weight loss, ritualistic eating habits, not eating, obsession with exercise, social withdrawal and fear of eating in front of people.
Female anorexics can also suffer from amenorrhea, or the loss of the menstrual cycle.
Bulimia is slightly different, in that people with the sickness are able to maintain a weight and look “normal” in spite of eating habits.
They have episodes of binging and purging; usually by vomiting up anything they eat. In order to be diagnosed with bulimia, a person has to have purged at least twice a week for three months, Repovich said.
Warning signs for bulimics may include minor theft of food or money, substance abuse and muscle weakness or aches and pains.
Repovich said that bulimia is usually a sickness that starts in college, when students move away from home for the first time and their eating habits change. Prevention is key in eating disorders. By knowing the risk factors associated with eating disorders, friends and families can help prevent people cope with the disease and recognize that they have a problem.
Intervention must be a team effort. It must include a doctor, a counselor or psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, a dietician, and if the person is an athlete, an athletic trainer must be present.
According to Repovich, eating disorders are psychological. “As far as we know, it’s a behavior,” she said. “Once you recognize that you have that behavior, it’s something you have to fight for the rest of your life.”
The Eating Disorder Awareness Programming [EDAP], a national resource for those seeking help with an eating disorder, can be reached at 1-800-931-2237, or on the web at Eating Disorder Awareness Program.
In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, there will be a viewing of The Secret Life of Mary Margaret, a dramatic true story about a high school teenager whose eating disorder almost killed her. The movie will be shown Friday, March 2, at noon in Patterson 153.