The Truth Behind Eating Disorders: A Serious Mental Illness, Not a Lifestyle Choice.



Eating Disorders: It’s time to break the silence.

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.




My project is going to focus on Eating disorders because they have become extremely serious but treatable mental illnesses that can increase risk of physical and emotional challenges for an individual if not properly treated. It is unclear as to where specifically Eating Disorders come from but they can stem from a range of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors.



Although the stigma around Mental Illness has overall lessened overtime, the stigma around Eating Disorders continues to silence the long overdue conversation. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any Mental Disorder but recovery is achievable. Uncovering the truth behind Eating Disorders has been an important goal of mine for some time now as this mental disorder has affected some of the most important people in my life. Today society has been unsuccessful in sparking the discussion around Eating Disorders to help decrease the stigma around the disease. Eating Disorders are illnesses that need to be addressed and taken seriously so together we can educate the people around us about the truth behind Eating Disorders. It is time we kill the stigma surrounding Eating Disorders because they are serious mental disorders, NOT lifestyle choices.



First I will start by raising awareness on Eating Disorders through a Campaign. I hope to reduce stigma surrounding Eating Disorders to make it clear that Eating Disorders are NOT a choice and need to be taken as seriously as any other illness. In this campaign I have included an interview with the founder and creator of The Emily Program, statistics, responses to a survey and visuals.





What’s Next?

I decided to take my efforts a step further as I wanted to involve myself as much as possible to be an advocate for the disorder and help provide this illness with a voice.

  1. To start off in a few short weeks I will begin volunteering with the Emily Program Foundation to help advocate the importance of treatment for Eating Disorders and to spread the word on the incredible work done by their organization. I will be involved in Advocacy events and blog writing for their campaign to spread awareness on the serious issue at hand.
  2. Through this volunteering experience I can not only better my education on Eating Disorders but the people around me as well.
  3. I plan to stimulate and normalize discussions on Eating Disorders into my daily life when talking with my friends and family to help educate the people around me and provide them with the statistics and facts on Eating Disorders to erase the common myths.


Eating Disorder Facts & Myths

Myth-You can tell if someone suffers from an Eating Disorder just by looking at them.

People suffering from an Eating Disorder come in all different shapes and sizes. It is common for people to assume that anyone who is extremely skinny automatically must have Anorexia which is not the case. Individuals suffering from Anorexia may not even ever appear to be very thin. Many individuals with eating disorders ranging from Bulimia, Binge-Eating Disorder, Anorexia or OSFED (Other specified feeding or eating disorder) can be overweight, underweight, normal weight, obese and tend to fluctuate in weight. 



Myth-Eating Disorders are a lifestyle choice; anyone can decide to have one since it only is “a phase”. 

Eating Disorders are serious mental disorders with severe mental and physical consequences that tend to cause a great amount of suffering and pain. An individual with an Eating Disorder can NOT just simply to decide to not act on symptoms. Someone can decide to pursue recovery for their illness, but the recovery process is much more complicated and complex than just deciding to not have an Eating Disorder anymore. 



Myth-Anorexia is the only life-threatening Eating Disorder.

Eating Disorders in general have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Any Eating Disorder such as Bulimia, Binge-Eating Disorder, Anorexia, etc can cause medical complications due to purging or starvation. Without treatment as many as 20% of individuals will die as a result of an Eating Disorder. 


Myth-It is rare or even sometimes impossible to recover from an Eating Disorder.

Although recovery can be extremely challenging, it is completely possible. Recovery can take months to even years to complete but with treatment many individuals do recover from their illness and are able to live a life free from their Eating Disorder. Not all individuals recover from their Eating Disorder during their lifetime but treatment can provide stability to control their illness. 





Myth-Eating Disorders are strictly about food and weight.

Although this myth may seem believable individuals who suffer from Eating Disorders often do live a life manipulated and consumed by weight and food. In reality those are merely just behaviors that are covering up much deeper problems. Focusing on calories, food and weight can distract one’s mind from acknowledging the core issues like extreme amounts of pressure, loneliness, low self-esteem, etc. 



Interview with Dirk Miller, Ph.D.,L.P. (Executive Chairman and Founder of The Emily Program)

Q: How would you describe The Emily Program in your own words? 

A: We are a community based Eating Disorder program providing treatment at all levels of care. SO within Eating Disorders there are really 4 levels of care: Non-intensive Outpatient, Intensive Outpatient, Partial Hospital and Inpatient. We have a lot of Outpatient services to support people as well as proving all the higher levels of care.


Q: So what exactly do each of the 4 levels of care provide?

A: Non-Intensive Outpatient-Meeting with an individual therapist once a week, meeting with a therapist in a group once a week

Intensive Outpatient- Come in 3 to 4 times per week for 3 hour sessions, have one meal with a group then an activity from day to day depending on what meal you have during your session.

Partial Hospital- Come in 5 to 7 times per week for 6 to 11 hours a day but sleep at home.

Residential or Inpatient- This is 24 hour care. Housing split up between adults, young adults and adolescents.


Q:What is the evaluation process to get admitted to The Emily Program?

A: Call up to have a brief phone screen to then set up for an evaluation and meet with a therapist or psychologist who will go through and do an extensive evaluation to try to place an individual in the right level of care and match the individual with a provider team that is fit for the patient.


Q: How do the treatment teams work? 

A: Everyone has their own individual therapist and depending on the level of care the patient goes into they may or may not have a medical evaluation if you are in a Residential of Partial Hospital program you have to meet with a medical provider on a weekly basis and then follow up with that provider. The lower levels of care usually see a therapist and possibly a dietician or a nutritionist and an outpatient group.


Q: Is it common to see other mental illnesses present alongside an Eating Disorder? How do you navigate treating two mental disorders?

A: Yes. It depends on the history of the person and how much their mood disorder is exacerbated by the Eating Disorder and will some of it subside if they get the Eating Disorder under control, get proper nutrition, then they might not need any psychiatric medications but many typically do for Depression or Anxiety.


Q: How would you say your profession allows you to look into the insight of world mental health?

A: I think there are cross cultural differences with Eating Disorders and also Gender differences with Eating Disorders so I think it is interesting to recognize those differences and be able to see how those might play a role in the etiology of Eating Disorders. What we say is…

“Genetics loads the gun but environment pulls the trigger” So there are environmental events usually societal expectations for weight, shape and size and those pressures coupled with a Genetic predisposition is what goes to creating Eating Disorders.


Q: How can we decrease the stigma surrounding Eating Disorders to create positive change?

A: Educate and encourage schools to teach students, staff and the surrounding community on Eating Disorders and start openly discussing them.



This survey was taken primarily by females (61.1% of respondents) and was taken primarily by people ages (15-18) at 61.1% of respondents. 

The results are as followed: 

In response to the question on which of the following choices given can cause Eating Disorders (Social or Psychological Factors, Troubled Personal Relationships, Genetics, Trauma and Dieting) where in fact all of the given choices are correct answers only 12 of 18 respondents (66.7%) checked off Genetics as a possible cause of an Eating Disorder. Genetics typically do have substantial influence on if a mental disorder is passed on from generation to generation. 


When asked the question “Do you know anyone who has had/has an Eating Disorder?” 14 of 18 respondents (77.8%) answered yes, 3 respondents answered no, and 1 respondent answered “Maybe, I’m not for sure though”. This means that more than 75% of the respondents know someone who has had or has an Eating Disorder displaying the seriousness of this rising health concern in the world around us. 


When asked to answer “How many people do you think suffer from an Eating Disorder in the United States?” Picking from the choices: 5 million, 8 million, 15 million, 30 million and 45 million with the correct answer being 30 million people suffer from an Eating Disorder in the United States, 7 respondents (38.9%) answered 15 million, 6 respondents (33.3%) answered 8 million, 3 respondents ( 16.7%) answered correctly with 30 million, 1 respondent (5.6%) answered 45 million and 1 respondent (5.6%) answered 5 million. These responses show how undermined Eating Disorders are perceived in the United States when in reality 30 million people suffer from an Eating Disorder.










Works Cited:




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  1. April 29, 2017 by Emma C

    Hey Lucy! I love your page it really looks like you spent a lot of time on this! I have a similar topic for my page as well (Anorexia student awareness) so I though it would be interesting to check out your page and see how our research may be the same and how it may differ. I love that you included the interview with Dirk Miller – this provided your viewers with a more personal and interactive side to your project – along with the survey!

  2. May 01, 2017 by Annie L

    Hi Lucy! I really enjoyed your project and love that you are taking real steps to help the issue. This is such an important issue and needs to be talked about. I loved how you incorporated myths, a survey, and your interview!

  3. May 01, 2017 by Haley P

    Hi Lucy! I really enjoyed your presentation and love how you organized the information. I really appreciated the section about myths and facts of eating disorders because I think that these realities are unfamiliar to a lot of people and the myths surrounding eating disorders contribute to a lot of the stigma that exists.

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