It’s Time to Talk About It

A woman binges and purges each night, yet no one—not even her husband of twenty years—knows. A high school student runs himself to exhaustion daily at track practice, but his coach doesn’t suspect how dangerous his routine really is. A ten-year-old girl throws away her lunch everyday at school, and her mom doesn’t know it. These are just some of the faces of eating disorders—suffering in silence day-by-day. It’s time to talk about it.

As many as 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Approximately 15 million more are struggling with binge eating disorder. Many more cases go unreported because sufferers are afraid to talk about it. It’s time for us to help them break through the secrecy and shame. If we all start talking, maybe they will, too.

We need to talk about how eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses. While eating disorders may appear to be about food and weight, they are really about much more. Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, biological and social factors. Recent research shows that genetic factors create vulnerabilities like anxiety, compulsivity, and perfectionism that place individuals at a risk for acting on cultural pressures and messages to meet the unrealistic thin ideal—triggering destructive diet and exercise behaviors.

In the United States, we are inundated with messages—from radio and television to uninformed healthcare professionals—telling us that to be happy and successful, we must fit into society’s impossible beauty standards. Eighty percent of all ten year olds are afraid of being fat. Eating disorders are on the rise and do not discriminate by age, sex, ethnicity, culture, or anything else. Tragically, over one person’s lifetime, at least 50,000 individuals will die as a direct result of eating disorders. This must stop. We must take preventative action and advocate for better access to treatment.

People can and do fully recover from eating disorders. I know, because I broke through the silence in my own life years ago. I told someone about my eating disorder, got professional help, and after years of hard work, I am healthy and happy today. I started talking, and I got better.

Let’s all start talking about eating disorders and recovery. Let’s share the truth. It’s time.

Appointed to the Ambassador Council of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Jenni Schaefer is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and author of Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me (McGraw-Hill). For more information, visit www.jennischaefer.com or www.myneda.org. NEDA Helpline: 800 931-2237

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