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I’m new here at Walden. So like many parents, families and patients with eating disorders, I’m learning right beside you. And I must say – I’ve been surprised every day since starting here.

I know eating disorders are one of the most complex conditions. The process of recovering is often one of the hardest battles a person will face. I grossly underestimated the prevalence, demographics and the depth of their impact not just on the person struggling, but on all those who care for them.

So in the week following National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I figured I’d share some of the (many) surprises that I’ve encountered. At the very least, they could serve as an important reminder to us all!

  1. Eating disorders are more prevalent than I thought: 30 million people experience eating disorders in their lifetime. Chances are, we likely know someone with an eating disorder, even if they haven’t been clinically diagnosed.
  2. Eating disorders carry unforgiving consequences: Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Some studies estimate that up to 4 percent of those with Anorexia and 3.9 percent of those with bulimia will pass due to their illness. Among 15-24 year-old women with Anorexia, the mortality rate is 12X higher than all other causes of death. More eating disorder awareness and prevention needs to happen.
  3. Anorexia isn’t the most prevalent eating disorder: When many people hear the words “eating disorder,” they (myself included) assume it’s anorexia or bulimia. I was shocked to learn Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder, impacting approximately 8 MILLION people in the United States.
  4. Eating disorders profoundly impact men: In fact, most studies show around 10 percent of those diagnosed with eating disorders are men, a figure likely underestimated since thousands (if not more) of men don’t report or seek treatment for their eating struggles. Forty percent of those struggling with BED (again, the most prevalent eating disorder) are males.
  5. Eating disorders impact ALL age groups: Stereotypically, eating disorders are only a problem for teens and college-aged females, but that’s far from the truth. 78 percent of anorexia-related deaths occur among the elderly and findings from the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI) found eating disorder symptoms in 13% of women aged 50 and above.
  6. Treatment isn’t necessarily a one-time fix: Only one in ten people struggling with an eating disorder will receive treatment. This is often due to the shame and guilt that those with an eating disorder experience as well as society’s perception of mental illness that hinders many from receiving life-saving treatment. It is entirely normal and frequent that people relapse, but with the right treatment, support and motivation, full recovery is possible.
  7. Eating disorders are not necessarily about the food: Treating eating disorders isn’t about placing food on a plate and telling people to eat. The amount – or way – someone eats just scratches the surface. Eating disorders carry extremely complex underlying psychological, social, genetic and physiological issues (among others) which dictate behavior. Heritability in anorexia ranges from 28 percent to 74 percent. It’s these “background” conditions which need to be at the forefront of treatment.

These eye-opening revelations are just the beginning of my education here at Walden. More meetings, books, videos, resource guides and conferences will follow in the days ahead, but so far, I realized these important things: there needs to be more access to treatment, more options for patients and a much more integrative and patient-specific approach to provide the skills and behavior to overcome them. Thankfully, we’re here to help.

What am I missing? What are statistics that have surprised you about eating disorders?

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michael-mcdonough-headshotMichael McDonough is the director of communications at Walden Behavioral Care. Prior to joining Walden in February of 2016, he was the Marketing Communications Manager for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, elevating the organization’s brand awareness and increasing membership acquisition through digital and traditional marketing strategies. He also carries nearly ten years of public relations experience working with dozens of corporate and non-profit organizations.

Michael is a graduate of Syracuse University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in both broadcast journalism and psychology. He is an avid runner, having completed five marathons (including four Boston Marathons). 

*This blog post does not necessarily represent the views of Walden and its management. The Walden Blog is meant to represent a broad variety of opinions relating to eating disorders and their treatment. Comments are welcome, but respect for the opinions of others is encouraged.