Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Get Real. Eating Disorders Are Illnesses, Not Choices.

In honor of Andrea, and millions of others, I authored a resolution declaring Feb 22-28 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in California (co-authored by Senator Patricia Wiggins).

Andrea was an outgoing teen, spoke three languages, trained in opera, loved to dance, and wanted to save the world. According to her mother Doris, Andrea began dieting as a freshman in college despite having an athletic, healthy appearance. She called her mother the first time she threw up and agreed to seek counseling. One year to that day, Andrea died in her sleep of electrolyte imbalance from purging which stopped her heart. She was just 19 years young, and was a bright star that never got a chance to fully shine.

Doris Smeltzer, who dieted and talked about dieting throughout Andrea's childhood (the #1 predictor for eating disorders), started Andrea's Voice Foundation to provide insights and guidance not only to parents, but also to any young woman who is struggling with an eating disorder.

In California, more than 4.1 million people suffer from anorexia, bulimia, binging, or some other unclassified eating disorder. In fact, anorexia is the 3rd most common disorder amongst teens, behind obesity and asthma. For females between 15 to 24 years old who suffer from anorexia, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of ALL other causes of death, and the real number is even higher because "heart failure" or "dehydration" are commonly listed on their death certificates.

A recent poll showed that 91% of women on college campuses had attempted to control their weight through dieting. I remember starting college and wanting to lose a few pounds. I went completely vegetarian, consumed lots of bran and high fiber foods, cut out most carbohydrates, exercised excessively and even took an occasional laxative. My wakeup call: my hair started to fall out in clumps. I realized my obsession and started to adjust my eating habits.

Americans love Hollywood and celebrities, and the media zooms in on what they're wearing, who they're dating, and how much they weigh. Jessica Simpson is ridiculed for wearing high-waist jeans and vows to drop 10 pounds. On vacation, Jennifer Love-Hewitt is tormented wearing a bikini showing her full figure. Oprah is mad and embarrassed about her weight and tries to camouflage her figure.

We need to focus more attention on this serious issue; we need more funding for research and prevention; we need to work with families and schools to talk to young people. We also need to challenge the assumptions that eating disorders are just a vanity issue in young girls, a passing phase, or one that afflicts spoiled rich kids.

Other resources:

Sari Shepphird, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, Eating Disorders Specialist and author of 100 Questions and Answers About Anorexia Nervosa.

Connie Sobczak, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Body Positive, an organization that challenges young people to "not conform to hating their bodies."

Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program

Academy for Eating Disorders

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

Info and Referral Hotline Helpline: 800-931-2237