More eating disorders than ever are being formally recognized, and that’s an important thing

“You look pregnant,” my uncle said to me when I was in eighth grade, during the prime of my awkward-yet-finding-myself years. I was 5’9” and probably 120 lbs., but I had on a broomstick skirt (remember those?), so all the colorful flowing pleats made me look wider than I actually was. Hence, my uncle’s comment. As soon as he left the house, I took off the dress and cried, then buried it in the garbage can outside. Later, my mom found it and dug it out, wondering why I’d thrown it away. But I couldn’t explain—she couldn’t possibly understand how my uncle’s one-line comment would change the next few years of my life. How I’d live on baked potatoes (just 278 calories—or less!—depending on the size, and you could eat it over the course of an hour with ketchup, “like a healthy French Fry!” I’d boast) and lettuce sandwiches (one piece of sourdough bread cut in half with lettuce in the middle—less than 20 calories for an entire head of lettuce!), and three tiny gingerbread cookies for dessert (less than 50 calories; that is, if I did my two hours of outdated aerobics tapes and ran up and down my family’s staircase at least 100 times and did my 1000 crunches every day).

Anorexia’s no fun. (In retrospect, neither were the 1000 crunches a day!) At the time, I didn’t know that my anorexia and my anorexia athletica (exercise obsession for weight loss) were anorexia and anorexia athletica. But, like my old self, millions of people today have eating disorders—and don’t even know it.

Sadly, they are as common as ever. The National Eating Disorders Association found that approximately 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives—20 million women and 10 million men.

Anorexia is just one of several eating disorders people might suffer from. Bulimia’s up there, too, in popularity. And you may know about orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with healthy eating, though it isn’t technically “official” yet since it hasn’t made the DSM-5 (aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), the bible of disorders.

But, all that said, what about other eating disorders that may be more under-the-radar and not discussed as much?

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

One that DSM-5 did recognize for the first time in 2013 was binge eating disorder (aka BED)… and, it’s THE MOST COMMON eating disorder in the United States. It affects 3.5 percent of women, 2 percent of men and almost 1.6 percent of adolescents, according to licensed professional counselor Kathleen Murphy, clinical director of Breathe Life Healing Centers in California. The center helps people with eating disorders.

“BED is characterized by recurrent episodes of loss of control of food intake,” said Murphy to U.S. News & World Report. “Specifically, eating large amounts of food, often quickly to the point of physical pain or intense discomfort. These episodes are often followed by intense shame, guilt, self-loathing and promises to never do it again. The cycle is then repeated over and over, much to the consternation of the binger.”

Anorexia athletica

This is when people exercise obsessively to lose weight. The American Council on Exercise estimates that about 50 percent of people with any eating disorder suffer from anorexia athletica. That’s a lot of crunches or hours at the gym.

“Other specified feeding or eating disorders” (OSFEDs)

“Other specified feeding or eating disorders,” OSFEDs, can include things such as someone purging, binging, or only eating a set amount of food. In these cases, the person may do these things on occasion vs. regularly and they may not lose a drastic amount of weight. But, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, OSFEDs are responsible for 70 percent (yep, 70 percent!) of eating disorders. However, they may go undetected since they are not as apparent as bulimia or anorexia.

“Eating disorders can be serious and life-threatening without extreme weight loss or weight gain, and there can be hidden medical consequences that may be difficult to identify without specific laboratory tests,” said Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, to U.S. News & World Report.

Disordered eating

There are also people who binge one day, purge the next, and diet hop. We all know people like this, right? Perhaps ourselves? “Disordered eating is a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern that can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals,” says the National Eating Disorders Collaboration site. These people may not have a dictionary (or DSM-5) definition of an eating disorder, but they do have irregular eating patterns.

“Countless individuals do not meet the clinical criteria to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, but are still struggling nonetheless,” said Mysko. “Think about your eating habits and how flexible you are in terms of food.” We’ll eat (in a non-obsessive, healthy way) to that.

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