Surveys show that approximately 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder at some time during their life, according to The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Of those 30 million people, about 10 million are men, shattering the illusion that eating disorders affect only women. Although eating disorders are most commonly diagnosed in women ages 12-35, they can affect individuals of any age, gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity.
Eating orders are serious, potentially life-threatening mental and physical disorders. They are characterized by disturbed eating habits, often including abnormal fear of weight gain and a distorted view of body shape and image.
NEDA describes eating disorders as “complex, bio-psycho-social diseases that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships.” The organization also stresses that eating disorders are not passing phases or lifestyle choices. Instead, they are disorders with both a psychological and physical component. While there is no definitive answer as to what causes an eating disorder, researchers believe they arise from a combination of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors.
Common eating disorders
There are many types of eating disorders, each of which causes emotional and physical harm. The most common disorders are anorexia nervosa (anorexia), bulimia nervosa (bulimia), and binge eating disorder (BED). Less common eating disorders include avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, rumination disorder and pica.
Those with more common eating disorders typically develop unhealthy behavior patterns around food, body image or weight. They may severely restrict their intake of calories, purge after eating, exercise excessively or exhibit other behaviors that can result in malnutrition, starvation, and death.
See our Turning Point of Tampa blog post How common are eating disorders for more specific information, including warning signs and treatment options.
While early intervention and treatment can help prevent serious psychological and health consequences, recovery is possible at any stage of the disease. The following are inspirational stories from a few of the thousands of people who are in recovery from a serious eating disorder.
Community saved her life
Gina Susanna, NEDA Ambassador in recovery since 2014, picked one word from a list of 50 that most exemplified the core values that guide her life. She mulled over the list that contained words like freedom, security, compassion, sincerity, and wisdom before finally arriving at her answer: community.
To Gina, community means “the warm and comforting glow of understanding and shared experience. The feeling of belonging. Being a part of something greater.” She says her community has enabled her healing by helping her to see the burdens she was carrying and helping to lighten that load. As she says, “Community wrapped me up in ‘we see you’ and ‘we love you’ and ‘it’s going to get better,’ and it showed me a way out.”
Now firmly in recovery, Gina emphasizes that at NEDA, “community is what runs the Helpline and the chat line and offers support. It’s the voice on the other end of the phone telling you that, even though the thoughts may be strong right now, you are stronger.” Gina credits her community for saving her life, stating, “I know this with absolute certainty.”
Gina is now a writer, blogger, and Instagrammer focusing on mental health and eating disorders. She is a frequent speaker at various workshops, panels, retreats, and NEDA walks.
The call that changed everything
Jenni Schaefer, NEDA Ambassador, can attest to the power of the NEDA helpline. She says her recovery was triggered by a frantic father who didn’t know how to help her. He gave her the number to the NEDA helpline, leading Jenni to make “the call that changed everything.”
Although Jenni says she doesn’t remember much about the words spoken during that first call, she says, “I hung up that call and had something that I hadn’t had yet, and that was hope.” Jenni says hope is not only “a trigger for healing, but also fuel to keep us on the recovery path. “
Jenni took the information provided by NEDA and ran with it. She contacted a treatment team, including a therapist, dietician, and doctor, who, as Jenni says, became her lifelines. It wasn’t easy, but she never gave up. And that became her mantra: never, never, never give up.
Jenni encourages anyone with an eating disorder to reach out for help. Call the NEDA helpline.
Today, Jenni is the author of several books on eating disorders and says recovery is woven into the fabric of her life.
Finding a family of her own
Recovery is often easier to achieve with loving support from family, but not everyone has that support system. Reba Tobia was one such individual. She saw the strong support networks of family and friends that others had and felt full of despair. Reba is the creator and founder of The Brave Box, a gift box for those going through the eating disorder recovery process. She has been in recovery for the past 5 years.
Fortunately, Reba learned she did, in fact, have the support she needed to recover, although not in the traditional sense. Reba discovered that “family isn’t always blood. Sometimes, families are the humans who find you when you need them most.” She found that her treatment team, especially her therapist, and three close friends provided the support she needed to heal.
To those embarking on their own path of recovery, Reba’s words are reassuring. “Everyone’s recovery journey is different. If you don’t have the family support you so wish you had, you can STILL thrive and begin the recovery process. I am living proof of that.”
Stars in recovery
Many celebrities have gone public talking about their own struggles with eating disorders. Stars like Camila Mendes, Troian Bellisario, Alanis Morissette, Lady Gaga and many more have openly discussed their recovery journeys. And some celebrities are reaching out to help others.
In 2012 Lady Gaga founded the Born This Way Foundation to help connect young people with resources to help with body image, bullying, drug and alcohol issues and more.
In 2017 Troian Bellisario starred in a film she wrote, called Feed, about living with anorexia, offering insight into eating disorders for a wider audience.
In 1989, Turning Point of Tampa developed their nationally recognized Eating Disorders and Food Addiction Program for clients with Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa. This comprehensive program uses a 12-Step based treatment approach to focus on and treat food as an addiction.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.