What to Do If Someone You Know Has an Eating Disorder

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Photo: Courtesy of Jairo Alzate

A study out of Harvard in 1999 found that television and exposure to TV shows from the UK, US, and New Zealand had led to a frightening increase in eating disorders amongst Fijian women. Dr. Anne Becker, an anthropologist at Harvard Medical School who had been studying the population’s eating habits since 1988, noted that, 38 months after the station airing these shows was introduced in Fiji, 74 percent of teenage girls surveyed felt that they were “too big or fat”. Furthermore, 15 percent of them had resorted to vomiting as a way to control their weight. “Nobody was dieting in Fiji ten years ago,” Ms Becker said. “An alarmingly high percentage of adolescents are dieting now.”

Today, doctors and anthropologists agree that mainstream media and the body ideals it portrays have played a leading role in eating disorders becoming so widespread. According to Dr. Carine el Khazen, Vice-President of the Middle East Eating Disorder Association (MEEDA), one in five people suffers from disordered eating, while 70 million people worldwide suffer from an actual eating disorder. These include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating – but also less common disorders like bigorexia, orthorexia, and night-eating syndrome.

An obsession with one’s weight or appearance has become somewhat acceptable in many cultures, but eating disorders are not to be taken lightly. In fact, every day, 23 people in the world die from medical complications relating to an eating disorder, and anorexia is recognized as the deadliest of all mental disorders. Beyond the physical (and visible) side effects, eating disorders also have a profound mental impact that can lead to depression and, in many cases, suicide.

One in five people suffers from disordered eating, while 70 million people worldwide suffer from an actual eating disorder.

Founded in 2009, MEEDA is a non-profit comprised of clinical psychologists, dieticians, medical doctors, and other experts trained in the treatment of eating disorders. The organization is focused on raising awareness around this issue, working towards prevention, conducting research in the Middle East, and offering support to sufferers and their families.

On MEEDA’s website, you’ll find a number of helpful resources, including a test to help you determine whether or not you suffer from an eating disorder and guides for parents, teenagers, teachers, and adults involved. You’ll also get access to 15 minutes of free online support via a live chat. Most importantly, you’ll be able to browse a directory of accredited professionals in the region to take the next step in seeking treatment.

Even if it may not seem like it, it is possible to recover from an eating disorder. According to numbers shared by MEEDA, 75 to 80 percent of adolescent girls with access to treatment recover, while the general recovery rate sits around 50 percent as an average of men, women, children, and adults. Of the remaining 50 percent, 30 will see a decrease in symptoms.

If you suspect that you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help. A life may depend on it.

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