IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - The National Eating Disorders Association kicks off its annual awareness week. Nearly 25 million people in the United States suffer from eating disorders.
There's a common misconception that eating disorders are about food. In the beginning, it usually is about weight loss, but as the disorder progresses it becomes less about food and more about control.
From magazine covers to food labels, society makes it clear that thin is in vogue.
"You see the models and actresses and everyone looks up to them and says 'oh they're so beautiful' so you're kind of like, well I want to be like that. I want to be that pretty and that thin and so you feel like you have to look like that in order to be accepted," said Rigby High School senior Rachel Barrus.
Junior at RHS, Alyssa Miller said she has friends who have eating disorder, but even as she sees them suffer, Miller said she relates to the pressure to be thin. "You're always going want to be smaller, well not always, but a lot of girls do, like I feel like that all the time, I just want to be small and pretty," said Miller.
Eliza Shippen, a basketball player and track runner admits as soon as she hit high school, body image hit her mind.
"I see other girls walking around the halls and I think maybe I want to be as skinny. Maybe I want to be as pretty as them, but I had a conversation with my mother and she helps me feel better and feel more beautiful about myself," said Shippen.
Dr. LaVonna Patterson said parents play a major role in establishing a healthy body image.
"The sooner the parent recognizes it and does something about it, the sooner it ends," said Patterson.
Early signs of eating disorders include; sudden weight loss, avoiding meals, over exercising, isolating, and changes to behavior.
"Unfortunately what happens with the eating disorder is that it becomes a part of who they are. They don't want to give that up, they don't think that's a problem," said Patterson.
Eating disorders don't just affect girls, 10-15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are men. BYU-Idaho senior David Hanna said eating disorders run in his family. Even though he was familiar with the dangers of eating disorders, being teased at school added to his negative body image. By the time he reached high school he spent several hours a day at the gym, ate very little and dropped 40 pounds within one month.
"I had the mentality that I'm weird because that I'm going through it and that if I ever told anyone, another guy, they would be like 'what's wrong with you dude?' This isn't just something that's specific to girls," said Hanna.
He suffered with a combination of anorexia and bulimia classified as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). Through the support of family and friends Hanna realized his options were to get healthy with the help of his family or check into a treatment center.
Slowly, with the help of his mother and brother Hanna was able to get healthier. He admits, he is still self conscious and sometimes thoughts about being thinner or going back to eating disorder behaviors cross his mind.
"Know that you're important regardless of what your weight is," said Hanna.
"Everyone's beautiful they just need someone to tell them that and help them get through it," said Barrus.
Treatment for eating disorders can be very challenging. Clinical criteria for anorexia and bulimia is often very difficult to meet, regardless of how serious an eating disorder is. EDNOS is one of the most common type of eating disorders, but many insurance companies don't recognize it and therefore won't pay for treatment. Treatment centers for eating disorders can cost up to $30,000,
Recovery from eating disorders is often a very long and difficult process. Serious health problems from eating disorders include heart problems, dental problems, osteoporosis and death.
For more information on eating disorders and treatment visit The National Eating Disorder Association, Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.