Trigger Warning: This article contains information about eating disorders that some readers may find disturbing.
The bathroom is the scariest room in the house, at least for teens with eating disorders (EDs). They feel they have control over their disorder until trying to stop. Worse, no one has any idea the teen has a problem. ED acts are done in private and leave no trace.
Thirteen percent of youth develop EDs by the age of twenty. Despite being the third-most common chronic condition for youth, parents and educators know little about them. As a nation, we must become aware of EDs and get over the discomfort of talking about them. If this addiction continues to be ignored, it will remain the second deadliest mental health illness, following opioid overdoses, and over 10,000 people will continue to die annually.
EDs are commonly depicted in a single narrative: a very skinny white girl who is self-conscious about her weight. This stereotype neglects to acknowledge that EDs affect all genders, body types, sexualities, and ethnic groups. Moreover, people of color are less likely to be asked about symptoms by a doctor. Adding to the stereotype is that the person suffers from bulimia or anorexia nervosa, but there are so many other EDs, with most falling under Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).
COVID-19 put everyone in isolation, where EDs had space to flourish. The stress of the pandemic, lack of social interaction, and the feeling of instability created the magic milkshake for an ED. The National Eating Disorder Association helpline saw an increase of 58 percent between March 2020 and Oct. 2021. Despite this statistic, there remains a void of awareness.
EDs are a serious psychiatric disease and silent killer. They cause dental and gastrointestinal issues, irritable bowel syndrome, organ distress, and many health problems, even death. Sadly, the side effects don’t end there. According to Dr. Laurie Hornberger of Children’s Mercy Kansas City, quoted in the New York Times, teens with EDs “can die of medical complications, but they may be even more likely to die of suicide. They become tired of having their lives controlled by eating and food issues.” By continuing to ignore EDs, teens are suffering silently.