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Women in the Marines with Anorexia

Women in the Marines with AnorexiaThe most common eating disorder is anorexia. Often referred to as the “starving disease,” a person suffering from anorexia deprives himself of food, generally to obtain a certain weight. However, another common eating disorder is bulimia (bulimia nervosa), which is frequently referred to as “binge and purge,” because a person eats excessively (binge) and then rids himself (purge) of the food they consumed.

Characteristics of Eating Disorders

A person suffering with an eating disorder often has an unhealthy body image. In addition, the person’s focus on food often becomes extreme and food is considered negatively as calories instead of nutrition. The behaviors that a person with an eating disorder may demonstrate include:

  • Excessive exercise
  • Avoiding eating with others
  • Frequently going to the bathroom, especially after eating

The emotional impact of an eating disorder is often characterized by the person becoming distant from friends and family and being extremely tired, often irritable, and increasingly withdrawn.

Causes of Eating Disorders in the Military

All branches of the military have expectations to prepare the men and women to be effective in combat. In addition, they provide many opportunities to learn how to deal with stressful situations and to work collaboratively within a team environment. As a part of this overall commitment to its soldiers, the military also has expectations that their men and women should maintain healthy and strong bodies.

Stress and the concept of being “perfect” are key influences on a person with an eating disorder. While serving in the military, many women believe that they have to be better than their male counterparts to achieve success.

Female Military Personnel and Eating Disorders

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, as many as 10 million women and 1 million men in theUnited Statesstruggle with anorexia or bulimia and at least 15 million more struggle with binge eating disorder.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, women represent approximately 14 percent of active duty military personnel.

A study entitled Diagnosed Eating Disorders in the U.S. Military: A Nine Year Review, was presented in 2008 that suggested that the diagnosis of eating disorders among service members doubled from 1998 to 2006, although the number remained relatively small. A majority of those diagnosed were Marines.

Dealing with Eating Disorders in the Military

Combined data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s 2004 to 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) have documented that more than 20 percent of veterans age 18 to 25 suffered serious psychological distress in the preceding year, with females more vulnerable than males. When dealing with this distress, a person may develop an eating disorder.

A. Kathryn Power, M.Ed., Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) and captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve is part of a task force with the Department of Defense that is creating guidelines for constructive programs that:

  • Foster a culture of support for psychological health
  • Provide a full continuum of care to service members and their families
  • Allocate resources to prevention, early intervention, and treatment
  • Ensure that leaders at all levels support mental health services

This focus is designed to help military services understand that psychological health is as important as physical health for our military personnel.

Get Help for Eating Disorders

Call our toll-free helpline any time of day or night; we offer valuable and confidential information that can help you find a solution to your eating disorder.