The Edmond Sun

February 27, 2013

Living Hope EDTC promotes eating disorder awareness in OKC

Dr. Meghan Scears
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — Feb. 24 through March 2 is national eating disorders awareness week, and Living Hope Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Norman is helping to promote awareness of this deadly disease within the Greater Oklahoma City area. Studies show that at least 10 million Americans suffer from eating disorders each year. These disorders are deadly, and are reported to have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses.

Anorexic individuals are usually 12 times more likely to die than the average person, and individuals with other eating disorders are 6 times more likely to die than the average person. Eating disorders disproportionately affect female teenagers and young adult women, but occur in all ages and genders.  The disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified.

The stereotypical eating disorder patient is a young female, likely between the ages of 15 and 25.  However, new evidence is emerging that shows that this stereotype may need to change to more accurately reflect the entire eating disorders patient population.  Several new studies are showing a shift in the demographics of those who suffer from eating disorders.  Recently, a study reported in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 13 percent of women aged 50 or older are currently struggling with an eating disorder.  Also, a newer study shows a change in the ratio of females to males with the disorders, from 10:1 in the past, to 4:1 currently.  This means the male eating disorder patient population is increasing.

Eating disorders were originally considered a disease of wealthy, white people.  However, recent studies show that higher socioeconomic status no longer correlates to higher prevalence of eating disorders, and that statistical rates of the disease are similar in Caucasians and minorities. Eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic status groups. They do not discriminate.

It is therefore important to understand what eating disorders are. They include restriction of food/calories, bingeing, purging, over-exercising, and abuse of laxatives, diuretics, and diet pills. Someone with an eating disorder can struggle with all or some of these symptoms.  While some patients with these problems will be of very low weight, many will be within a normal weight range, and can even be in the overweight or obese weight ranges.  

Anorexia nervosa is likely the most popular eating disorder, but is also the least common.  It affects around 1% of the U.S. population, and involves several criteria.  These include a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height; an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight; and a disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced; or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.  

Bulimia nervosa is more common than anorexia nervosa, affecting approximately 4% of the population, and requires several criteria including recurrent episodes of binge eating; a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode; recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise.  The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behaviors both occur, on average, at least twice a week for 3 months, and self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.

Binge eating is another disorder, which affects about 2% of the population, with a disproportionate number of overweight and obese people affected.  Binge Eating Disorder consists of recurrent binge eating episodes during which a person feels a loss of control over his or her eating. However, unlike bulimia nervosa, inappropriate compensatory behaviors (i.e. self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise, or fasting) are NOT engaged in by the individual.

Lastly, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is the diagnosis of a patient who does not particularly fit into any eating disorder category by strict definitions. Its prevalence has not fully been studied, but it is estimated that this population is larger than both anorexia and bulimia combined. A study in 2007 confirmed that EDNOS is the most common eating disorder encountered in the adult outpatient setting.  The term “not otherwise specified” or “NOS” does not mean that these disorders are any less serious than other eating disorders. Indeed, the Fairburn study on the severity of EDNOS, found that it is very close to Bulimia Nervosa in its nature, duration, and severity. This study also found EDNOS to be common, severe, and persistent.

Given that eating disorders are serious and life-threatening illnesses, it is important to know the warning signs of these disorders.  Warning signs of a potential eating disorder include but are not limited to: sudden changes in weight without another medical condition, a preoccupation with weight and shape, a drastic change in eating habits (i.e. calorie counting, cutting out entire categories of food-i.e. no carbohydrates, proteins, etc.), obsession with the calories and fat content of foods, avoiding eating around other people, or avoiding events where food will be present, withdrawal from family and friends, suddenly not wanting to participate in activities previously enjoyed, wearing loose baggy clothing, restricting fluids, excessive exercise, frequently using the restroom immediately after eating a meal, using diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or other weight loss supplements, hiding food, complaints of dizziness, feeling cold often even when others are comfortable, hair loss, headaches, loss of menstrual cycle, constipation, complaints of abdominal pain-especially with eating, insomnia, and worsening anxiety or depression.  

If you or someone you know could be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately for the individual from a team of professionals in order to achieve recovery.  This team should include a physician, counselor, and dietitian, preferably with eating disorder treatment experience.  With increased awareness about eating disorders, and earlier treatment intervention, lives can be saved and restored to health.

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