Eating Disorders

  • Eating disorders are not about the food, and they are not just a phase that someone gets over.  They are a physical manifestation of an intangible problem.  They are a coping mechanism, a way of handling life when a person doesn't know how to deal with struggles or emotions.  

  • The pressure to look a certain way is not just for the younger; it is felt by young adults and middle-aged and mature women also. 

    Older women can have their first experiences with eating disorders in middle age during a difficult life transition--divorce, financial duress, loss of any kind, or any of the difficult things that can and do happen.  That is a time when people seek something that will help them feel better, wanting to be in control of their life. 

  • Early Death.  Eating disorders are a serious issue in our society.  The documented effects of eating disorders upon the body are devastating.  Anorexia is the leading cause of mortality among any kind of psychological or emotional illness.  Bulimia can also lead to premature death.   Both lead to serious medical problems because they often go undetected.    
  • Eating disorders have many beginnings—most of them start with dieting and become something uncontrollable.  The villain is the disorder, not the child or the parents. 

  • The propagation of unrealistic body imagery is hurting our health, according to the American Medical Association. 

    80% of women feel worse about themselves after looking at beauty ads. 
    42% of girls in grades 1 to 3
    want to be thinner. 

    This is a health issue.  The imagery seen in CVS stores is real, indicating which photographs have been digitally altered.  Women will then know what is real and won't feel they have to live up to some unrealistic standard.  Girls ages 13-24 are now going to U-tube where they see imagery there that is realistic.  They're saying, 'Celebrities aren't real. I want to relate to people who have my own imperfections and feel that I'm empowered by the fact I look like these people.' (source: Unrealistic body imagery, CVS Health, Keeping it Real, VP Helena Foulkes, CBS News, January 15, 2018) 

  • Those caught in the anorexia cycle are victims of very rigid thinking patterns and extreme self-discipline.  They deny themselves food as a way of controlling one aspect of their lives.  Sufferers often feel they are unacceptable, are not good enough, and suffer from feelings of self-hatred or self-contempt.  
  •     Symptoms of anorexia include:
    • weight-loss, restricting food
    • not wanting to eat around others
    • loss of menstruation
    • thinning or loss of hair
    • fatigue and tiredness
  • Risks include:
    • osteoporosis
    • infertility
    • heart and other organ damage
    • death


  • Bulimia is binge-eating followed by a purging activity which may include vomiting, excessive exercise and/or abuse of diet pills or laxatives.  Bulimics get a release from the anxiety and emotional turmoil they feel.    
  • Symptoms of Bulimia include:
    • the possibility of significant weight changes, both gains and losses
    • repeated episodes of sore throat
    • scraped knuckles on the hands
    • enlarged glands
    • gum disease and/or erosion
    • abdominal pain, stomachaches
    • chest pain, and heart irregularities  
  • This secret life is often unnoticeable to others, and may continue undetected for years.  
  • A common barrier to the Bulimic accepting help may be their fear that someone will take that illness away before they are ready to give it up.  They may feel ashamed of their behavior, or, conversely, be extremely proud that they have a self-control that others don’t.  They feel at peace about what they are doing—it is a solution to their problem, and they are intensely afraid of becoming overweight. 
  • 80% of women feel worse about themselves after looking at beauty ads.  42% of girls in grades 1 to 3 want to be thinner.  (Helena Foulkes of CVS Pharmacy, CBS News, January 15, 2018)

  • One in five women struggle with an eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • Estimates suggest that in the U.S. as many as 10 million women and some men suffer from some form of eating disorder.  In addition, as many as 15% of young women and girls develop unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about food.  
  • Men.  Harvard researchers announced in the first national survey of eating disorders in 2007, that men account for up to a quarter of all anorexia and bulimia patients.
  • Whether male or female, people with anorexia and bulimia tend to show similar symptoms and respond to similar treatments.  
  • Some of the feelings individuals experience are:
    • Self-hatred and self-contempt
    • Desiring to have people like them
    • Needing to be perfect in everything because of the media’s image of perfectionism
    • Not wanting to disappoint others
    • Feeling guilty about eating
    • Great denial in spite of the fact that they also have physical problems such as heart palpitations, dehydration, and purging blood
    • Anxiety which is calmed when they receive a boost of endorphins by throwing up
What You Can Do
  • If you think you recognize these symptoms in a friend or family member, remember that when confronting the problem, no matter how gentle and loving you are, you should expect a strong reaction and denial.
  • Learn more about the disorders of anorexia and bulimia.
  • Recovery is possible.  With professional help, you can reach the point at which your eating disorder fades; and eventually you only think about it, but do not act; and then it can cease to exist. 
  • Find local resources for education and guidance. 
  • Seek professional help for both the person with the disorder and for the whole family.  Do not try to deal with it alone.  Eating disorders are a difficult illness.  Consulting and involving other treatment teams and professionals (physicians, nutritionists and counselors) may be helpful.  These diseases are not just about food, dieting, or the body—they are symptoms of emotional pain and conflict.  The family dynamics and expectations often play a crucial role in both the development of the disease, and the cure.
  • Protect your family from unhealthy social pressure.  Read “Reviving Ophelia,” by Mary Pipher, which emphasizes developing personal value over appearance.
  • Mothers can teach their daughters that a girl or woman’s value is not dependent upon her body weight or sensual appeal.  Teach them their self-worth is not hinged on their physical appearance or accomplishments. 
Local Organizations
Additional Resources

  • Sacred Heart Medical Center.  They have an adolescent care unit that offers an inpatient treatment program.
  • The Emily Program
    2020 E. 29th Avenue
    Spokane, WA
    (509) 252-1366

    An eating-disorder treatment center which offers assessment, individual and group therapy, nutritional counseling, psychiatric and medical services.
  • "The China Study,"for information about diet, weight control, and the mitigation of many dietary-related chronic diseases.