FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often the result of complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors.

That's why the Behavioral Health Division at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital will be observing Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Feb. 24 through March 2, with an informational booth at the Healthy Community 2013 Wellness Fair and Volksmarch slated for Feb. 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Nutter Field House.

For some, dieting, bingeing and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one's life, but ultimately, these behaviors will damage a person's physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.

People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming.

"You can't control everything, you're not perfect, you don't have to be, you can ask for help," said Capt. Smith, a local patient with a history of Bulimia. "Good soldiers are being discharged for being overweight," she said.

Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for both females and males.

"The military needs to be made aware of [the presence of] eating disorders," said Sgt. First Class Stephanie Cobb, a Soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit here. Cobb has struggled with eating disorder for nine years and refers to it as "the silent killer."

In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

Approximately 25 million more are struggling with binge eating disorder.

Because of the secretiveness and shame associated with eating disorders, many cases are probably not reported.

In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. For example, 80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest premature fatality rate of any mental illness. For females 15-20 years old, the mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.

Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don't diet.
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 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.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

People who overeat compulsively may struggle with anxiety, depression and loneliness, which can contribute to their unhealthy episodes of binge eating. Body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate or severe obesity.

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and liked what you saw? Do you weigh yourself every day? Skip at least one meal a day? Do you count calories and fat grams every time you eat?

If you can relate to these questions, you could be on your way to an eating disorder.

So, what can you do to help prevent eating disorders? Learn all you can about eating disorders.

Awareness will help you avoid judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape, and eating disorders.

Discourage the idea that a particular diet, weight, or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment.

Choose to challenge the false belief that thinness and weight loss are great, while body fat and weight gain are horrible or indicate laziness, worthlessness, or immorality.

Avoid categorizing foods as "good/safe" vs. "bad/dangerous." Remember, we all need to eat a balanced variety of foods.

Decide to avoid judging others and yourself on the basis of body weight or shape. Avoid conveying an attitude that says, "I will like you better if you lose weight, or don't eat so much, etc."

Become a critical viewer of the media and its messages about self-esteem and body image.

If you think someone has an eating disorder, express your concerns in a forthright, caring manner. Gently but firmly encourage the person to seek trained professional help.

Be a model of healthy self-esteem and body image. Recognize that others pay attention and learn from the way you talk about yourself and your body.

Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation. Choose to value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents, and character.

Avoid letting the way you feel about your body weight and shape determine the course of your day. Embrace the natural diversity of human bodies and celebrate your body's unique shape and size.

The Behavioral Health Division at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital offers services, from a certified eating disorder specialist, to individuals who are struggling with eating disorders.

If you, or someone you care for, is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, you can contact our clinic at (573) 596-0522 to request an appointment or have your physician submit a consult.

(Editor's note: Linda C. Richards is a licensed clinical social worker at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital)