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Eating Disorders

Mass Media: Adding Fuel to the Fire

Joseph Jacob

By Joseph Jacob

In previous blog posts, we've touched upon the media’s shrinking definition of beauty. This is something that we are more than familiar with—magazines and billboards featuring extremely thin models in tight and provocative clothing, TV commercials of male and female models promoting beauty products, perfume/cologne, and clothing, movies and shows with women who are toned and men with six-packs and muscles. But before we go any further, it is important to note that in almost all cases CGI, excessive makeup, and photo-editing software are extensively used to make these men and women more “attractive” (that is, in the eyes of advertising and marketing companies). In other words, beauty portrayed in the media sphere is often manufactured thus pushing the image of beauty further from reality—a consequence of living in a society where “sex sells.” The best way of selling a product is through sex appeal, or featuring women and men who are, interestingly enough, unusually skinny. This is a disservice to these models who are skinny to begin with as well as to society as a whole.

The media works to produce and place advertisements so that their intended customers will see and hopefully buy their product. For instance, it was found that women’s magazines contained 10 times more advertisements and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines (Stice). Though it would be false to accuse magazine advertisements as the main cause of eating disorders in women, it is important to see the correlation between how exposure to the ideology that being thin is of great importance can lead to feelings of depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity, and body dissatisfaction (“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders”). This, in turn, can develop eating pathologies such as anorexia and bulimia as well as excessive and harmful dieting (“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders”).

Social media can also foster these previously mentioned sentiments. Facebook, Twitter, and other sites also play a substantial role in propagating feelings of dissatisfaction with one’s body image. For instance, seeing Facebook friends post pictures of their toned bodies or talking about skipping meals to lose weight can bring feelings of guilt into the minds of the viewer. Being surrounded by these posts and pictures that praise thinness work hand in hand with the media to promote feelings of negative self-image. However, it is not all bleak as our society is moving in a direction that promotes health over thinness, wellness over a number on a tag. In addition, the public is taking a stand against this mentality of hyper-thinness that has since captivated our youth.


Stice, Eric, Erika Schupak-Neuberg, Heather E. Shaw, and Richard I. Stein. “Relation of Media
Exposure to Eating Disorder Symptomatology: An Examination of Mediating
Mechanisms.” PII: S0021-843X(02)00526-6 (1994): n. pag. Journal of
Abnormal Psychology, 11 Apr. 1994. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.
“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. NEDA, n.d.
Web. 05 Dec. 2014.

Obesity: The Increasing Stigma

Joseph Jacob

By Joseph Jacob

Imagine being judged and defined by the way you look. Imagine being discriminated against or ostracized based on characteristics that will never define your personality. More often than not, the way we are perceived by others is important in shaping our own self-image. That said, it becomes increasingly important for us to support and accept one another despite our insignificant differences, especially with regards to weight. According to a recent study, the problems of stigmatization of people, especially children, who are obese has only increased from the 1960s to early 2000s (Latner). The stereotype that those with obesity lack willpower and discipline is ever-present— if not on the rise— and is hardly ever challenged as evidence with bullying, rejection, and prejudice (Puhl). And in fact many factors can be predisposed to the stigma surrounding obesity including the media, employment, health care, and interpersonal relationships (Puhl).

This mentality can have adverse effects including but not limited to: psychological consequences, social inequality, and a low quality of life (Puhl). Moreover, this weight bias can lead to social rejection and can even lead to thoughts of depression, suicide, and eating disorders.

The consequences are certainly far-reaching and require further inquiry. While obesity may be an issue in terms of health, stigmatization and disenfranchisement are not remedies, but harmful. Weight gain is common, but the best way to improve upon it is through healthy lifestyle changes, not through shaming others who may resort to dangerous eating habits. Emphasis should be placed on health as opposed to a number (i.e. body weight and BMI). While obesity may be unhealthy, eating disorders and extreme dieting are far more detrimental. Thus, it is imperative that individuals strive for health, not body image.



Latner, Janet D., and Albert J. Stunkard. "Getting Worse: The Stigmatization of Obese

Children." Obesity Research 11.3 (2003): 452-56. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.


Puhl, Rebecca M. "Health Consequences of Weight Stigmatization and the Contribution to

Obesity and Eating Disorders." Yale Rudd Center (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.


Diabulimia: Sugar Overload

Emily George

            A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at the age of thirteen could be a lot for most to handle. Keeping a handle on diabetic symptoms and their effects on the body demands conscious regulation of food intake and exercise along with timely insulin injections or pills. While most teenagers can down candy bar after candy bar, those with diabetes need to think twice. With the proper familial and medical support, however, such a transition becomes easier and they simply develop a new lifestyle around their diabetes. Or so we hope.

            The constant onslaught of mass media’s body expectations casts its net over everyone who engages in it. In today’s society that is the overwhelming majority. We become conditioned to believe that this is the way our bodies should look. Especially in the teenage years, where one begins to take an active role in finding themselves, this image carries a lot of weight. The constant search for easy shortcuts and quick results is yet another byproduct of our hyper-connected, technological world. Now when these two concepts mix we find many teenagers thrust into the search for an easy way to shed pounds and willing to try anything without thinking of all of the consequences. We then see the rise of diabulimia where the above diagnosis becomes more an opportunity to lose weight than an impediment.

            The main concern with diabulimia is its propensity to comorbidities and the onslaught of severe medical repercussions on account of this. Diabulimia is characterized by a tendency to eat large quantities of food, especially those enriched with sugars and other carbohydrates, and losing that excess sugar by frequent urination (Dada, 2012). For those with diabetes, that often means either limiting or completely restricting much needed insulin injections. How do the two coordinate?

            Type 1 diabetes entails the inability to produce sufficient if any insulin by the pancreas (Dada, 2012). Cells in the body need insulin in order to take up glucose from the blood and use its energy. When one lacks enough insulin, the body’s cells go into starvation mode causing one to lose weight. However, more sugar builds up in the blood, putting excessive strain on the kidneys to get rid of this build-up by more frequent urination. This weight loss comes at the expense of healthy kidneys and puts the patient at much higher risk for heart attack, stroke, vascular disease, infertility and quite possibly death.

            It is important for those who receive a type 1 diabetes diagnosis to receive proper support from the very beginning. Especially those who are in their teenage years or younger. It is normal for patients to gain some weight at the start of insulin injections and this should be properly relayed as a temporary, healthy change before the start of treatment. Many suggest the help of a registered dietician (RD) to monitor and assist in constructing and maintaining a new appropriate diet. Familial support is also key. Parents should be ready and willing to administer insulin injections or at least keep track of them in order to ensure that younger patients with diabetes take proper care of themselves.


Dada, J.H. (2012, August). Understanding Diabulimia — Know the Signs and Symptoms to Better Counsel Female Patients. Today’s Dietitian. 14(8), 14.


Orthorexia: The Celebrated Not-Yet- an-Eating-Disorder

Emily George

Picture found on:

Picture found on:

     With extensive research being done all over the world on different foods and the effects of food manufacturing, today’s healthy eater has a lot more information available  to consider before taking a bite into a snack. Many new eating lifestyles have come about in recent years with specific restrictions on what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, etc. Healthy choices are important but healthy portion size and timely meals are equally as important. When a new “healthy” diet meant to keep out any unhealthy foods begins to restrict too much, it has  the exact opposite effect than was intended. 

     With the number of overly restrictive diets increasing, the number of people who have foregone proper nutrition in the name of such diets have also increased. When one works to maintain an excessively strict diet to the point where it becomes detrimental to one’s health, one may be dealing with orthorexia. Orthorexia is a name created by Steven Bratman MD but is not yet recognized by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders edition 5) as an eating disorder (Kratina).  However, it is considered and spoken about on the National Eating Disorders website as a special issue that deserves proper attention and treatment. Although orthorexia may stem from healthy intentions, it most certainly does not reflect a beneficial or healthy lifestyle. Literally, orthorexia means “fixation on righteous eating” stemming from the Greek root words orthos (“right”) and orexis (“appetite”). This literal translation accurately reflects the nature of the situation (Kratina). People with orthorexia become consumed by their diets, regulating every bite before it goes into their mouth and considering all of the information and research available on food before deciding their meals (Kratina). This obsession is not necessarily fueled by a desire to become thin but rather the desire to be “healthy”. 

      Additional fuel is provided by the current state of society, especially in terms of food intake. With high rates of obesity, especially in the United States, media and society create a hyperaware, hyper alert eater in an effort to tackle the  high rates. We look to those who highly regulate their food intake as the societal ideal: the smart and sensible consumer. Thus, we glorify this restricted eating and further fuel those who are inclined to make a change in their diet to become excessively restrictive and proud of these new unhealthy eating habits (Kratina). We celebrate orthorexia instead of understanding it for what it is, an impediment from real healthy choices. 

Kratina, Karin, PhD, RD, LD/N. "Orthorexia Nervosa." NEDA. National Eating Disorders                       Association, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

Binge Eating Disorder: The Uncomfortable BED

Emily George

              When society sees a person losing weight to the point of an emaciated figure, it immediately recognizes the illness that person is suffering from: an eating disorder. Most of society would then reach out a hand to help that person and get him/her the right treatment. Yet this limited perception of the scope of eating disorders causes  a lot of people suffering to slip under the radar. Eating disorders are not just characterized by the exercise of restraint from food or excessive exercise. There are some struggling with eating disorders who are unhealthily drawn to food, instead of away from it. Rather than seen as struggling with an illness society sees these people as struggling with their weight on account solely of their own actions. The reality remains that many people who are struggling with their weight are struggling with an eating disorder, whether they appear very slim or a little bigger. One major eating disorder that addresses detrimental cravings and desires for food is Binge eating Disorder


                Binge eating Disorder (BED) oftentimes presents itself in the form of a larger and sometimes obese body. When checking for  BED, the main issue at hand is the frequency and volume of food intake. One with BED will engage in repeated episodes of binge eating which entails a lack of control. Ultimately resulting in a very large consumption of food within a two hour period.  The activity during and after the two hour binge will also reveal more information. Someone with BED demonstrates at least three of the following characteristics with regards to eating. Either food is eaten too quickly, or food is consumed past the point of satiation, or food is eaten of embarrassment from the sheer quantity of how much is being eaten by one individual, especially in groups. Other characteristics include food being eaten despite lack of hunger and the expression  of guilt and/or depression after eating large quantities

                In order to be diagnosed with  binge-eating disorder, the episodes of binge eating must  occur quite regularly: at least twice a week for a six-month period. If one is participating in binges this frequently, one would be much more susceptible to developing health drawbacks such as high cholesterol or diabetes. These negative health consequences prove binge-eating disorder to be a detrimental medical problem. Eating patterns that are  strong and persistent even for a six-month period can most definitely prove deleterious to one’s health as they become more and more engrained into one’s lifestyle. It is important that we recognize those suffering from binge-eating disorder as deserving of proper treatment rather than receive societal taunts for their actions.  People suffering from BED are suffering and should be gently and kindly encouraged to seek treatment and get help just as anyone else suffering from an illness.


Males and Eating Disorders

Joseph Jacob

By Joseph Jacob

In the public’s eye, eating disorders are unfortunately labeled as a ‘feminine disease.’ While often thought to affect only young girls and women, eating disorders are actually fairly common among males. In fact, more than 10% of those with eating disorders are male (Shiltz). However, many men are reluctant to express their eating disorders to others due to the fact that the illness has traditionally been associated with women. Thus, men with eating disorders often refuse to seek treatment and support for fear of being stereotyped as effeminate and labeled weak or vulnerable— characteristics that unfortunately are, by tradition, associated with women and mental illnesses (“Eating Disorders in Males”). This, in conjunction with the other negative stigmas associated with eating disorders, can further diminish an individual’s self-esteem and dishearten them.

Elaborating on the previously-mentioned statistic (1/10 of those with eating disorders being male), studies have shown that there are likely many more undocumented cases of those struggling with the illness (Shiltz). Because, often men, adolescent males, and young boys, embarrassed by their eating disorder, refuse to seek out professional help.

It’s worth noting that men, women, girls, and boys often turn to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and EDNOS for similar reasons. Often, these males and females seek to achieve a thin, toned or muscular body image so praised by media (not excluding social media) as the paramount of perfection. Of course, eating disorders also find roots in bullying, dieting, trauma, and a history of obesity (“Eating Disorders in Males”). So, because none of these criteria are exclusively male or female, it makes sense that eating disorders are genderless as well, right? Well, the stereotype of the ‘female disease’ seems ever-present, and perhaps greatly affects the way friends and family approach a very serious/dangerous illness.

However, it is not all grim. Today in the United States, we are making historically-strong efforts to engage and include everyone regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and with a greater effort, their mental illness. By becoming informed and thus, understanding eating disorders— their underlying causes, consequences, and hardships—it’s inevitable that illness will be met by sympathy, compassion, and no longer bear cruel stigma. Because as we become accepting of others regardless of trivial differences, increased awareness of eating disorders will lead to more advocacy, acceptance, and support for those struggling.



"Eating Disorders in Males." National Eating Disorders Collaboration, n.d.

Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Shiltz, Tom. "Research on Males and Eating Disorders."

NEDA, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Bulimia Nervosa: The Roller Coaster

Emily George

           Mood swings are never fun. No one wants to feel a wide range of emotions in a short span of time, nor does one want to be near someone vacillating from one end of the spectrum to the other. Those days seem to be the worst. Yet what happens when that swinging pattern, from one extreme end to the other, is imposed in one’s eating habits? One would lose control at the sight of food and devour it instinctively, only to spend the next minutes or hours fixated on how to rid one’s self of whatever was just consumed.. In the case of those with Bulimia Nervosa, , that pendulum swings from one end to the other quickly and instantly.

            Bulimia Nervosa as an eating disorder is characterized by bouts of binge eating followed by purging in which the  person tries to rid him/herself of that food. Like Anorexia Nervosa, this eating disorder stems from a desire to attain a skinny body. Yet unlike those with Anorexia whose drive for thinness leads them to constantly exercise restraint around food, people with Bulimia periodically feel a loss of control around food and thus binge. People with Bulimia often also try strict dieting and exercise regimens in order to lose weight but this restrain leads them to develop a deeper desire for that food. 

           Regardless of this heightened pull towards food, a 2013 study shows that the driving force behind this eating disorder remains a dissatisfaction with body image (Van den Eyde et al., 2013). This 2013 study monitored brain activity among women with Bulimia Nervosa when presented with food cues and body images. The study showed that women with Bulimia reacted differently than those without Bulimia when asked to compare themselves to slim women , but demonstrated the expected brain activity when presented with images of food. Thus we can see that this fixation with food felt by those with Bulimia have little to do with food and everything to do with their perception of body image and a critical view of themselves.


Van den Eyde, F., Giampietro V., Simmons A., Uher R., Andrew C., Harvey P., Campbell I., Schmidt U. (2013). Brain responses to body image stimuli but not food are altered in women with bulimia nervosa. BMC Psychiatry 13(302). doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-302



Anorexia Nervosa: The (Not So) Fun House of Mirrors

Emily George

          Ever look at a Barbie’s figure and wish that your reflection looked the same? Or have you seen Barbie’s stylish friend Ken and thought: that’s got to be me one day. With the rate of obesity worldwide having doubled since 1980 according to the World Health Organization, one would think that these slimmer ideals would cause a healthy shift towards a more fit ideal body; that it would stimulate a healthy movement towards better food choices and optimal levels of exercise. But the problem lies in the actual construction of Barbie’s super-slim-yet--curvy figure, for this figure is physically impossible. And so many are left running and dieting in pursuit of a figure that never quite matches that reflection in the mirror. That reflection always seems just too big. And over time that reflection is still too big even when the actual body has gotten  more and more slender. And this pattern continues until the body is noticeably unhealthily slender to everyone except for the person standing in front of the mirror.

            Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characteristic of long periods of starvation or very restricted food intake. Oftentimes a person with Anorexia will also work out excessively and almost obsessively work towards a perpetually thinner body. Even as a body with Anorexia gets thinner, its reflection remains large. No, that wasn’t a typo. It is, rather, the reality someone with Anorexia lives with every day. Studies looking at how a person with Anorexia understands others and how he/she perceives his/her own body shows a gap in their brain’s capacity to understand these images properly. One such study monitored overall brain function[N1]  as patients with Anorexia were asked to compare their bodies and  their homes with images of slim bodies and with picture of other homes in order to flesh out any differences in the reactions (Friederich et al. 2010). When these patients were asked to analyze the pictures of homes in relation to their own homes, they did not exhibit much anxiety; especially not in comparison to when they were asked to compare the ideal body to their own . The houses also carry some emotional attachment as they too can be considered a reflection of one’s taste. Yet the patients were not nearly as offended or ashamed of their homes as they were of their bodies. Researchers even monitored their brain activity in search of a scientific understanding of this disparity and came to see that certain parts of the brain were activated only when patients were asked to compare their body image. People with Anorexia are not merely in denial of the reality of their emaciated figure, they actually seem to be wired to only see an unfitting image in the mirror, to be dissatisfied with their reflection . Body dissatisfaction is a key factor at work with Anorexia and its severity distinguishes this disorder from other eating disorders as well

            Dealing with Anorexia is not as simple as forcing yourself to eat. Its relearning how you see yourself. And that is a much steeper task.


Friederich, H-C., Brooks S., Uher R., Campbell I., Giampietro V., Brammer M., Williams S.,

Herzog., Treasure J., (2010). Neural correlates of body dissatisfaction in anorexia nervosa. Neuropsychologia, 48(10): 2878- 2885. Doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.04.036







The Mystery Behind the Illness

Emily George

    When we look at most illnesses we readily associate them with a long list of symptoms and an even longer list of risk factors to avoid in order to steer clear of the illness. To avoid diabetes we are cautious to monitor our sugar intake and to exercise regularly. We look to these risk factors as a means to distance ourselves from the illness, to assure ourselves that it could never be a factor in our lives so long as we adhere to some sort of ideal behavior. Yet we do not always know the specific cause of an illness; and so we find ourselves without the ability to create distance between us and the illness by means of our actions. The illness seems all the more uncontrollable, mysterious, and omniscient. Such is the case with eating disorders.    

    Studies have struggled for years to try and pinpoint a cause for eating disorders and have failed to do so. This struggle stems from the very foundation of these disorders and how they develop. Eating disorders develop gradually. There are a number of factors: biological, psychological, and social which play  important roles in its development, thus creating a difficult environment in which to conduct a controlled experiment. Imagine trying to understand a children’s playground and isolate one socioeconomic aspect to view. Suppose you wanted to see the effects of a student’s economic status on their likelihood to be teased. What exactly do you look for? Do you only pinpoint those jokes that directly call the student poor? Jokes about the student’s dress, how the student spends their time, and even how the student goes to and from school are all related. They may seem like separate issues but they too are on account of the student’s socioeconomic status. It’s difficult to see just one factor at work because his socioeconomic status is also related to where the student lives, his family’s mindset and health,and numerous other factors. It’s difficult because all of these factors usually intermingle and work quite closely. Even when a correlation is noticed between the student being bullied and his socioeconomic status, it is hard to attribute the student’s socioeconomic status as the cause of said bullying. Similarly it has been hard to prove a causal relation between various factors and eating disorders. A scientific journal published by Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman accepts the shortcomings of previous studies in this aspect and attempts to better fill in the gaps by surveying people on a larger scale and narrowing in slowly (2002).

    The study looks critically at the common perception that the media is to be blamed largely for the prevalence of eating disorders. Society most definitely defines a very strict ideal of beauty, where beauty often corresponds to being exceptionally thin, especially in the United States which does cause some to look at themselves more critically and strive towards an unrealistic and usually unhealthy ideal. The media’s perpetuation of this ideal most definitely  contributes to its spread as it constantly reminds people of these ideals everywhere they go: in the car radio, at home on the tv, on posters in their workplace. The study suggests that rather than the media targeting a specific group, the media actually provides a distracting fixation for those people who have trouble facing other problems in their lives. These same issues can be seen in the dynamics at work in a family more prone to eating disorders. Those families that suppress emotions and fail to provide proper support for its members to work out emotional and psychological stress are more likely to develop an eating disorder for they too have no means to handle other issues in their lives (Polivy, Herman 2002). Yet it is difficult to designate this correlation as a proper cause. Rather, we can acknowledge these family dynamics as a contributing factor which may perpetuate the effects of a proper cause of eating disorders.  

    It is not an individual’s fault that he/she has an eating disorder and it is important to realize that no magical guideline can separate us from this disorder. It is something that plays on our natural desires and our innate tendencies to set in and perpetuate in our lives. It could happen to myself or my neighbor at any point in time and that doesn’t mean it is our fault.


Polivy, J. & Herman, P. C. (2002). Causes of Eating Disorders. Annual Review of Psychology. 53:182-213




A Closer Look into Eating Disorders

Emily George

   “She blames herself for developing the eating disorder and not being able to control her eating and purging.” These are the words of Gina Dimitropoulos, M.S.W., Ph.D., R.S.W. in reference to a twenty-one-year old woman. This woman, having struggled with anorexia nervosa for years, describes a turmoil that many people facing eating disorders feel. The very root of the disorder begins with a feeling of low self-worth and is propagated by the same means. Without an exterior bacteria or infection to account as responsible, these patients feel that they have no one to blame but themselves.

    In her article “Stigmatization of eating disorders,” Dimitropoulos shines light on the stigma around the illness.. With eating disorders, the physical consequences are only part of the battle. The internal struggle is all the more severe and is further  magnified by societal pressures. In an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers show that society generally considers eating disorders to be self-inflicted. This outlook on the disorder leads patients to keep from sharing their struggle and/or seeking out treatment (Crisp, Rix, and Meltzer).  

    These patients are not at fault for their own eating disorders mostly because the situations and ideas that propel them into this illness are out of their control. And because they deserve treatment just like any other person suffering from illness. Ever doubt that eating disorders could be life-threatening? According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, “A young woman with anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than other women her age without anorexia” (1074). Anorexia Nervosa is a real illness. Bulimia Nervosa is a real illness. Binge Eating Disorder is a real illness. The more we learn about these eating disorders, the better we can treat them and the more lives we can save.


Crisp, A., Gelder, MG., Rix, S., Meltzer, HI. 2000. Stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 177:4-7.

Dimitropoulos, Gina; M.S.W., Ph.D., R.S.W. “Stigmatization of eating disorders”, National Eating Disorder Information Centre

Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1995; 152(7), 1073-1074.




Insurance and Eating Disorders

Joseph Jacob

By Joseph Jacob

Managing and coping with eating disorders is challenging to say the least. The ever-present stigma and a possible lack of support from family or friends can harm these individuals even more. Still, there are many willing to seek out treatments, such as psychotherapy, to end their fight with their eating disorder. However, these treatments are often financially demanding and thus, can keep an individual from seeking proper help (Alderman). For instance, a month long session at a residential treatment center for eating disorders is, on average, $30,000 (Alderman). And because usually several months of necessary treatment rack up a sizable bill, eating disorders can be especially hindering for those who cannot afford medical assistance—whether it be medicinal or psychotherapeutic (Alderman).

Despite the urgency of eating disorders, insurance companies are often reluctant to cover the costs for treatment (“Securing Eating Disorders Treatment”). Curiously, these inpatient treatments can be cost-effective provided that the patient completes the full course (“Securing Eating Disorders Treatment”). However, insurance companies deny many with eating disorders because of its emotional and psychological origin (Kulkarni). This mindset that prioritizes physical diseases over mental illnesses, however, is inconsiderate for a variety of reasons. Take, for instance, eating disorders. They are serious conditions with serious mental and physiological consequences including depression, organ failure, and death.

Therefore, companies that refuse to insure those with eating disorders pose a serious issue: extra costs create barriers for these individuals from getting help. Thus, it is imperative that we push to improve how health insurance companies approach those with eating disorders. These corporations may feel—due to misinformation or misconceptions based on stigma—that eating disorders are not as serious as say, cardiovascular disease or cancer. However, they can be. Eating disorders—anorexia nervosa in particular—have the greatest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and EDNOS all put the body in a great deal of physical stress and unbalance due to improper or lack of nutrition. Still, financial protection for these disorders is sporadic at best.

It is important to note that not all insurance companies deny those with eating disorders. However, those that don’t place significant limits on the number of visits a patient may have to eating disorder specialists or psychiatrists (“How to Fight for Coverage”). Additionally, these companies use BMI as an indicator of the “wellness” of patients as opposed to judging their psychiatric wellness— that is to say, many insurance companies focus on the quantitative progress of a patient instead of their emotional successes (“How to Fight for Coverage”). This can be dangerous if a patient with an acceptable BMI (>18.5) is classified as “well,” even if, psychologically speaking, they are not. In this case, the potential for relapse is high, and they will have to go through treatment again (“How to Fight for Coverage”). Nevertheless, inpatient treatments and therapy often come with costs unsubsidized by insurance companies and thus, keep individuals who wish to improve their condition from seeking out help. Improvements are certainly necessary on both the part of insurance companies and within the political front. Because eating disorders can be as serious as autoimmune diseases, heart illnesses, or neurological disorders, they thus should be treated to the same extent as physical illnesses.



Alderman, Lesley. "Treating Eating Disorders and Paying for It." The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Dec. 2010. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

"How to Fight for Coverage of Eating Disorder Treatment." NASDAQ, 7 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Kulkarni, Shefali S. "Eating Disorders Often Leave Patients Facing Difficult Insurance Hurdles." Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

"Securing Eating Disorders Treatment." National Eating Disorders Association. NEDA, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

The Costs of Eating Disorders

Joseph Jacob

Eating disorders and socioeconomic status

By Joseph Jacob

Personal observations have led me to conclude that the media’s portrayal of a person with an eating disorder is a young, Caucasian female from the upper-end of the wealth spectrum. These sentiments are not exclusive to me, but are shared among many others (“Stereotyped Beliefs”). However, conflicting data makes it difficult to conclude whether an actual correlation exists between the prevalence of eating disorders and socioeconomic status—making this topic an interesting one for further analysis.

One journal writes that 80-85% of anorexia nervosa cases are young women (ages 12-25) from middle and upper socio-economic status (Wozniak). Several studies from past decades also found an association between eating disorders and higher social class (Se-ember). These results go hand-in-hand with the previously stated stereotype that eating disorders are more common among those of wealth.

However, a recent review from Vanderbilt University delves more deep into the age-old studies, finding several flaws in their approaches used to collect data. For example, the review discusses how the “myth” that eating disorders are more prevalent in people of higher socioeconomics is due to the fact that patients from wealthier classes are more likely to spend money on treatments and counseling (Se-ember). Thus, they are more likely to reach out to professionals unlike those of lower classes who cannot afford to do the same (Se-ember). Additionally, more recent studies conclude that no significant relationship exists between eating disorders and wealth—contradicting the results of the older studies (Se-ember). Interestingly, a modern study also found that bulimia is more common in individuals from lower socioeconomics (Se-ember).

With these results it is safe to assume that eating disorders are not exclusive to any socioeconomic class. Therefore, because of the breadth of individuals who are facing eating disorders, it is very important not to linger on the idea that only certain types of people are subject to this illness. The stereotype that women of higher socioeconomic stature are far more likely to acquire eating disorders is both false and dangerous because it can be detrimental to those who fit the stereotype and to those who do not. Because, those who fit the stereotype may not seek out help due to the fear of being judged as a stereotype. As well, those who don't fit the predetermined mold of those with eating disorders may neglect the seriousness of their illness as they may think, “I don't have bulimia because I'm not rich,” or “I couldn’t be anorexic because I’m not a white female.”

Costs of Eating Disorders

The great lengths to which people go in order to become or remain thin can certainly be costly to one's health. Eating disorders can also hinder finances, in terms of dollars and cents. Very little research exists on the economic strain of eating disorders in the United States. However, a recent study in Australia found that the socio-economic impact of eating disorders was almost $70 billion Australian dollars (equivalent to about 61 billion U.S. dollars) in 2012 (“NEDC E-Bulletin”). This large number is a product of health system costs, productivity costs, and “burden of disease” costs which accumulate because of the “health loss due to a disease that remains after treatment, rehabilitation or prevention efforts of the health system and society generally” (“NEDC E-Bulletin”).

Currently, there are 913,000 individuals with eating disorders in Australia—significantly less than the number of Americans with eating disorders (“NEDC E-Bulletin”). Although this approximation is crude as we do not account for numerous variables between the U.S. and Australia, there are 24 million people in America with eating disorders and consequently, the economic impact of eating disorders is likely greater than in Australia. More research in this area could elucidate the exact costs of the disease in the United States. However, it is likely that the amount of money that goes towards eating disorders in the U.S. will exceed that of Australia.

The enormous economic impact of eating disorders undoubtedly signifies the severity of the condition. Overcoming the disorder is complicated, and it is not something one can simply “grow out of.” Rather, professional intervention is often necessary in addition to support from family and friends.


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Eating Disorders: A Cause for Concern

Danling Chen

by: Joseph Jacob 

With so many Americans struggling with eating disorders, it is important for us to explore and understand the social implications of the illnesses on the individual. Those facing an eating disorder are far more likely to feel ostracized, detached, and therefore, helpless. Thus, women, men, young-adults, and children, alike, often blame themselves and their “lack” of self-control for developing their conditions—whether that be bulimia, anorexia, binge eating or EDNOS (Griffiths). Moreover, a recent study discovered several common ideologies found among these individuals. For instance, they view their disorders as being trivial (Griffiths). As well, it was found that male bulimics view themselves as “less of a man” because of their eating disorder (Griffiths). With these sentiments, it becomes clear why as many as half of these individuals suffer from depression (“Eating Disorders Statistics”).

The misconception that eating disorders are trivial makes sufferers less likely to seek professional guidance, as they might believe that their condition is self-inflicted, thereby accentuating feelings of guilt and diminishing their self-image and self-worth. The complexity of the conditions grows when an individual with an eating disorder dissects the associated stigma of the illness. Like the sufferers, others may also have similar perceptions of eating disorders—that they are insignificant, self-inflicted, and feminine. However, such stereotypes and stigmas only serve to reinforce the unwarranted negativity associated with eating disorders—further undermining the individual’s self-perception.

No matter how well-intended, sometimes family and friends cannot empathize with what the individual is going through, due to either a lack of information or even misinformation. It can also be difficult for others to wrap their heads around the severity of eating disorders. Consequently, they disregard the illness as being a fad or a phase—which can be hazardous because the person with the eating disorder may, too, adopt these ideologies— starting a cycle in which these feelings are shared between both sufferers and his/her family and friends (“Get the Facts on Eating Disorders”).

As with all stereotypes and stigma, it is important for people to become informed about the deeper issue. As Hippocrates once said, “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has” (“Hippocrates Quote”). Thus, if we know someone struggling with an eating disorder, it is essential that we wait and recognize what they are going through before passing undeserved judgments. It’s unfair for us to make assumptions about an individual without hearing, first, about the hardships of their illness from their perspective. A more profound understanding of the individual, in addition to his or her eating disorder, can also make it easier for others to support them.

Finally, reading about the condition and researching the topic could broaden one’s understanding of eating disorders and perhaps even correct and enlighten one’s preconceived notions—fostering a better recognition of the adversities these individuals endure. For example, learning about the psychological and physiological causes of eating disorders clarifies the misconception that eating disorders are self-inflicted (“Eating Disorders”). Reading about the range of risks and complications of eating disorders makes it clear that they are far from trivial (“Eating Disorders”). As well, understanding that eating disorders are not exclusive to a particular demographic (gender, race, class, continent) is also important.

The complications of the disease itself is far reaching. Multiple organ failure, depression, and suicide are a few of the potential health risks of eating disorders (“Eating Disorders”). Stigma will often harm individuals further by making him or her feel even more removed and isolated in their struggle. As fellow human beings, it is important that we always put ourselves in each other’s shoes, so that we may better recognize the individual who suffers, before we understand their eating disorder.


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Introduction to Eating Disorders, and Associated Stigma

Meghana Reddy

By: Joseph Jacob

Products of one’s undue negative self-image, eating disorders are severe and complex conditions prevalent both in the United States and abroad. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), currently 24 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder (“Eating Disorders Statistics”). Another source determines that in the United States (home to about 323 million) approximately 20 million females and 10 million males will encounter eating disorders at some time during their lives (“Get the Facts on Eating Disorders”). These individuals face a certain range of conditions including anorexia—characterized by starvation, bulimia—characterized by binging and subsequent purging, binge eating—characterized by overeating, and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (a.k.a. EDNOS). Because of their differences, each specific eating disorder should be approached uniquely (“Eating Disorders Statistics”). While difficult and perhaps misleading to generalize, eating disorders often stem from feelings of inadequacy, bullying, and the media’s ever-shrinking definition of beauty—all of which are harmful to an individual’s self-perception (“Factors That May Contribute to Eating Disorders”).

The Role of Stigma

When we consider the sensitivity that comes with anxiety disorders, even the term we use to identify these illnesses —eating disorder— may isolate an individual by suggesting that he or she is “disordered” or dysfunctional. So, even though individuals who suffer from eating disorders may be concerned primarily with their illness, they may also begin to fear an equally intrusive symptom—stigma. Stigma is defined as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something, “usually by way of misinformation” (“Stigma”). Stigma is notorious for creating negative stereotypes that attach easily to mental illnesses, and can be considerably dangerous when surrounding eating disorders as it can accentuate a sufferer’s present issues (e.g. guilt). So, stigma may keep a sufferer silent for fear that they will be associated with any unfair stereotypes.

Unfortunately, the most influential form of stigma is the self-inflicted stigma associated with weight and body shape that brings about unwarranted feelings of self-loathing. An individual will often morph their self-image into something they consider to be worse than reality. Thus, they may put themselves at great risk simply so that they may align with what they have been told by peers, media, and society as being “normal.” As French existentialist author, Albert Camus, puts it: “nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal” (Gluck).

Stigma and Depression

According to the ANAD, nearly half of the people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. This depression at least partially comes from the fear of being stigmatized. These individuals may encounter others who simply don’t understand the issue and dismiss it as a fad, a phase, or a lifestyle choice (“Get the Facts on Eating Disorders”). By extension, this can also apply to those struggling with other forms of mental conditions. Friends, family, and peers—even those who wish be supportive—may, due to misinformation, explain that their illness is imagined or temporary. This attitude may seem harmless even optimistic, however, its affect can be damaging. A person diagnosed with an eating disorder may become unconcerned with the reality of their illness. It becomes even more dangerous if an undiagnosed individual is indifferent and chooses not to seek help. However, eating disorders are extremely serious as they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (“Eating Disorders Statistics”). These high mortality rates, resulting from anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, indicate that they are multidimensional—having serious effects on a person’s emotional and physical health (“Eating Disorders Statistics”).


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