The Thin Line
By Anna Sachse
This is the message that is launched at you by the media at the beginning of every New Year—just pick up the latest issue of People, Us Magazine or The L.A. Times. Sure, on the one hand, more than two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese, and these folks should start exercising more, eat less and better foods and lose weight for the purposes of preventing disease and living fuller, more energetic, healthier and longer lives.
However, the problem with the media’s typical “Thin = Happy” message is that some people take it too far. Just look at actress Brittany Murphy who was frighteningly skinny at the time of her death last month. But then there’s the fact that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with anorexia are up to 10 times more likely to die as a result of their illness, typically due to cardiac arrest. And if it’s true that Murphy had diabetes, she could have been playing Russian roulette with her health by skipping insulin injections—without insulin, you can’t absorb glucose (sugar/calories), resulting in dramatic weight-loss.
I was actually a little hesitant to include that last bit of information because I know that girls (and an increasing number of boys!) who have eating disorders troll the Internet for “tips” just like this that will help them lose more weight. I know this because my sister has been bulimic for 14 years.
After trying to help her battle bulimia for nearly half her life, I am filled with an inexpressible rage about the lack of affordable resources out there—we sent my sister to three different clinics, including one that cost $60,000 for six weeks, which wasn’t long enough but was all we could afford. Her third clinic used up her lifetime Medicare mental health in-patient treatment benefit in three weeks. Never mind the fact that she had tried to kill herself because of her eating disorder. Twice. (Suicide is second only to heart problems as a leading cause of death among eating disorder sufferers.)
I am also pissed about the way the media tends to paint eating disorders as an easily-remedied matter of vanity, despite the fact that the approximately 11 million Americans who suffer from eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. I cannot stress enough that eating disorders are an illness, a very complex and understudied one that arises from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal and social factors.
So, if you or a loved one has an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder, what do you do about it? The most important thing you can do is to take it seriously, and then seek help. Recovering from an eating disorder is extremely difficult to do on your own. Check out organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org), the Eating Disorders Coalition (www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org) and Something Fishy (www.something-fishy.org) for prevention tips, information about warning signs and symptoms, support and referrals to treatment centers and counselors. They can help you find facilities that take insurance or offer low-income discounts.
At the very least, get counseling of any kind, even if your counselor doesn’t specialize in eating disorders. It can help you get to the root of the problem. Finally ready to commit to healing, that is what my sister started doing in December and it has already helped her immensely. It was the best Christmas present I got.