The weight on my shoulders: Personal story begins eating disorders awareness week

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- I'm writing this without using my name, but I could be any woman (or man) you know. The gate guard who looks at your ID card in the morning, the mother taking her child to daycare, or the bagger at the checkout in the commissary. It doesn't matter what I do for a living or how old I am. I do not look thin, nor am I fat. I have a disease. I have an eating disorder.

It has taken me a long time to admit that I have a problem. My disease is much like that of an alcoholic, but my drug of choice is food. An alcoholic can possibly learn to live without alcohol, but people with an eating disorder are still required every day to face their demons at breakfast, lunch, dinner and every time they pass a restaurant or bake sale.

My disease started around the age of 10 when I would binge-eat on sweets. Not just the typical eat two candy bars and feel kind of queasy, but eat a whole chocolate cream pie, a box of snack cakes, and a half of a gallon of ice cream. 3-4,000 calories at a sitting would not be unusual for me. I would hide it from my parents and friends, eating secretly and hiding the wrappers and packages in the bottom of the trash cans. When my friends would be offered something to eat, and they would say no, they just weren't hungry, I couldn't understand that. I was always hungry; no matter how much I ate. My best friend growing up was very tall and very thin, naturally. I always felt like the dumpy little friend tagging along. Although looking back I realize I was a normal weight, if not a little underweight at times.

Teenage metabolism carried me through high school and college, but quickly the pounds started adding up with every pizza and cake that I would consume. After months of daily binging, I would extreme diet and exercise for months at a time to get down to my "ideal" weight - the weight at which I thought I would be happy. I would get to that number on the scale and stay there for exactly 2.2 seconds and then start binging again; eating all the foods I had deprived myself of during my hyper-controlling period of dieting. This cycle would happen two or three times a year.

When I would get "fat," I would get very depressed and seeing myself in the mirror with all that extra weight would just prompt me to eat even more. Some incident or event would eventually occur that would prompt me back into my dieting and people would exclaim about the weight I had lost when I got thin again. As my weight would go down, their compliments only encouraged me to continue with the obsessive dieting and calorie counting. Fasting and over-exercising were two other parts of my illness that were kept quiet.

This cycle of thin and fat happened for many years. Probably more than most of you have been alive. I have kept it a secret for so long, from so many people. The only one that could have possibly had a clue was my brother, who would also indulge in sweets with me as a youngster. I knew that what I was doing was not good for my body, but I didn't know how much worse it could get.

I started seeking help from a therapist when my child walked in on me during one of my binges. I didn't want to give my child what I was eating, not because it was bad for them, but because I didn't want to share. I knew I had to do something about my problem. I was not going to hand this disease to my child and see her go through the same things that I did. My child was my world to me and I just couldn't do that.

I have been in therapy now for almost a year and things are a little different. Not a lot different, and not really for the better. I am on medication for my depression (a major factor in eating disorders), but my binging has progressed to binging and purging, a disease known as bulimia nervosa. Before I started purging, they classified my as non-purging bulimia, and in my mind it was nothing too serious. I really thought that I could fix this problem, just like I had fixed so many other problems in my life; I would just make it perfect. Major stressors in my life have changed the dynamic of my illness. My disease is nobody's fault, it's not all in my head, and it is a real illness with real symptoms and real consequences. I know that someday I will work through this and recover.

February 25 - March 3 is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. It's not a week of celebration or mourning, it is a week to educate on the existence and the dangers of eating disorders.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Bulimia includes eating large amounts of food-more than most people would eat in one meal-in short periods of time, then getting rid of the food and calories through vomiting, laxative abuse, or over-exercising.

Binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating is characterized primarily by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge.

There is no "cure" for eating disorders, it is a battle every day for the rest of your life for people with these diseases. It's not glamorous, in fact, for me it's embarrassing and shameful; very few people know that I suffer from this. Even when they do know about it, they don't know what to do. I belong to Team McConnell, I am part of your family, and this is my illness.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder or know someone who is , please get help. The NEDA website, www.NationalEatingDisorders.org, and toll-free information and referral helpline at (800)931-2237, provide extensive resources nationwide. The health and wellness center can also help point you in the right direction, contact Marybeth Havran at ext. 6150.

Some statistics on eating disorders
In March 2005, the National Eating Disorders Association contracted with Global Market Insite, Inc. to conduct a nationwide sample of 1,500 adults in the United States. Their findings concluded from those surveyed that:
· Three out of four Americans believe eating disorders should be covered by insurance companies just like any other illness.
· Americans believe that government should require insurance companies to cover the treatment of eating disorders.
· Four out of 10 Americans either suffered or have known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder.
· Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
· Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don't diet.
· 42 percent of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
· 81 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
· The average American woman is 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5 foot 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds.
· Most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women.
· 46 percent of 9-11 year-olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets, and 82 percent of their families are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets.
· 91 percent of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22 percent dieted "often" or "always."
· 95 percent of all dieters will regain their lost weight in one to five years.
· 35 percent of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.
· 25 percent of American men and 45 percent of American women are on a diet on any given day.
· Americans spend more than $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year.
(Additional information and statistics provided by  http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org)