Photo Credit montrosehospital.com
By Autumn McLeod
In only the second semester of her freshman year at Oklahoma State University, undergraduate Emi Feldman would find herself harshly judging her body, waking up to blurry vision and on the brink of suicide. It was not until she started going to doctors and doing blood work that she realized she could keep starving herself because in her mind, not a lot of damage was done to her body.
“I remember I would literally think I’m a good anorexic because my hair is falling out,” said Feldman “Or I’m a good anorexic because my skin is blue.”
Feldman suffered from anorexia and as she continued on as an acting major, her obsession over how her body should look almost destroyed her life. Feldman faced the common misconception that is made about eating disorders in today’s society, which is that it affects mainly people, or more specifically women, of high socioeconomic status.
“Anybody can get an eating disorder. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They don’t look at your gender, they don’t look at race and they don’t look at your economic standing,” said Feldman. “Anyone at any age can be affected by an eating disorder.”
According to an eating disorder statistic conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), about 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. Only 1 in 10 men and women actually receive treatment, and only 35 percent of men and women that receive treatment do so at a specialized facility.
As Feldman continued on through her freshman year of college, she weighed a total of 85 pounds and continued to starve herself for days on end. Her parents decided that it was time for her to transfer schools and get help. Feldman is now a senior at Hofstra University studying broadcast journalism and has been in recovery for three years.
Eating disorders can include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating and are largely associated with body dissatisfaction. Another common misconception is that it is only a phase or lifestyle choice, but according to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders are a life threatening condition and have the highest mortality rate among mental disorders.
Deaths resulting from eating disorders are 12 times higher than all other deaths, however, it continues to be disregarded as a serious illness. Even professionals in the medical field overlook symptoms. Feldman says her doctor openly admitted that he knew nothing about eating disorders.
The executive director and founder of Eating Disorder Collaborative/FEED IOP programs Sondra Kronberg shed light on why the serious illness is often overlooked in society.
“It’s not uncommon for physicians, parents and our culture in general to applaud weight loss so it’s often overlooked because the symptoms of an eating disorder very often don’t present in the blood work or the physical exam until the patient is far along in the eating disorder,” said Kronberg.
Many of the physicians that Kronberg trained had no experience in eating disorders themselves.
“I think that the medical population and I even think nutritionists and social workers who do not specialize in eating disorders have a misunderstanding of what an eating disorder is and they certainly don’t have the expertise to treat it,” she said.
Ebony Scott, who interns at the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders in New York, found that statistics given on eating disorders can come out inaccurate because of misdiagnosis or even because of patients who go undiagnosed.
“In eating disorders 90 percent of the patients are women and 10 percent are males, but that figure is skewed because a lot of the times with males who have eating disorders, they go undiagnosed or untreated because it is something that is seen as a women’s disorder,” said Scott.
For both men and women, eating disorders have been viewed as an illness that can be prevented and just a way of acting out, however the non-profit organization ANAD believes otherwise.
“With eating disorders, the person does not have a choice. The person cannot have control over an eating disorder,” said ANAD’s community outreach coordinator Kyron Brana. “It is just the opposite.”
ANAD was founded in 1976 and offers a helpline as well as nationwide referral services to doctors, treatment centers and support groups. They are not only advocates for the prevention and alleviation of eating disorders, but also for healthy bodies, attitudes and behaviors.
Not all individuals feel that eating disorders are dangerous and in fact feel the opposite.
“We have seen a lot of pro ANAD sites where there are individuals who are counting eating disorders more as a lifestyle choice than a serious mental illness,” said Brana. “That is unfortunate and it is incredibly misleading.”
Feldman realized the severity of her eating disorder and currently travels around the world speaking on the issue. She is in the process of creating a campaign that teaches parents of preschoolers how to talk about their bodies around their children and how to educate children on their own bodies.
“We abuse mental health terms every day and don’t even think about it,” said Feldman. “I think that just stopping that action whether on a professional end or just social setting is going to do tremendous things.”