According to the National Eating Disorder Association, up to 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Worldwide the figure is more like 70 million sufferers!
- The obesity industry will likely top $315 billion this year, nearly 3% of the overall U.S. economy.
- 95% of diets fail and most will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.
- 75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.
- 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always”.
- Almost half of American children between 1st and 3rd grade want to be thinner and half of 9 to 10-year-old girls are dieting.
- 35% of “occasional dieters” progress into pathological dieting, (disordered eating) and as many as 25%, advance to full-blown eating disorders.
Leading to Disorder in Youth
The social workers we surveyed reported the following insights into eating disorders that plague our youth.
- The onset of anorexia nervosa is most commonly around the same time as puberty.
- Young women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die than are other women without an ED.
- 40% of girls in grade ten and 37% of girls in grade nine thought of themselves as being too fat. Of those students that were “normal weight” based on their BMI, 19% still thought that they were too fat, and 12% of the students admitted to trying to lose weight
- With treatment, 60% of eating disorder sufferers make a full recovery.
- Without treatment, 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from eating disorder related health complications, including suicide and heart problems.
- Only one in ten sufferers will seek and receive treatment.
- Treatment is most successful when intervention is early.
The Best of Intentions
The social workers who specialize in eating disorders that we talked to report that even professional people with the best of intentions allow their bias to amplify the negative self-image that haunts the overweight.
Social workers report that most health care providers are well intended and genuinely care about their patients’ health and well-being, but, according to the 2017 book, Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating: Psychological Strategies for Doctors and Health Care Providers, “Studies show that many doctors, reflecting the society we live in and the perceived realities of the enhanced risks that excess fat creates for patient care, do hold a bias against large-size patients.” This bias also has been found in studies of nurses and is likely pervasive in the health care system in general.”
Family members contribute to fat-shaming and stigma when they put young children on diets, send them to fat camp, hide food from them, harp on their food intake, habitually force them into unwanted activity, make them eat different foods than the rest of the family is eating, and allow bullying to happen.
Feeling Bad Doesn’t Work
“Clients come to us with shame that their secret eating, or bingeing is due to lacking self-control and self-discipline. They hate themselves because what appears so easy for others—eating in sync with fuel needs and saying “yes” and “no” to food in comfortable balance—has been a lifelong struggle for them. They long for comfort but want to stop relying on food. They want to exercise more but may believe they are lazy and unmotivated.” (Why Self-Compassion is Key, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, Med, Social Work Today, Vol.20 No.1 Pg. 18)
“We must be prepared to reference the impact that genetics and metabolism have on weight; the effect that sleep deprivation, chronic dieting, and imbalanced neurotransmitters have on eating; that depression and anxiety underlie most dysregulated eating; and how childhood adverse experiences dysregulate the nervous system that makes emotional eating more likely…
“Self-compassion acknowledges that we gain power to effectively manage our lives by accepting that we are fragile beings…
“Self-compassion is meeting suffering, in this case, one’s own, with kindness, nonjudgment, and gentleness. (Why Self-Compassion is Key)