Year of Awareness: Eating Disorders

By: Meghan Glynn

While undergoing treatment for anorexia nervosa, Liana Rosenman of Commack, and Kristina Saffran helped each other to reach full recovery, and then decided to help others, founding Project HEAL to raise money for those suffering from eating disorders but unable to afford treatment. Video journalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (Jan. 24, 2014).

Kristina Saffran said she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 10; Liana Rosenman at age 12.

They are part of a growing -- and startling -- statistic. The number of children under the age of 12 to be hospitalized for eating disorders has increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006, according to the latest information available from the National Eating Disorders Association.

After meeting in treatment, Saffran and Rosenman founded the LI-based Project HEAL (Help to Eat, Accept and Live), a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to those who suffer from an eating disorder but can’t afford treatment, and to raise awareness.

Based on their own experiences and the knowledge they've gained in creating the organization, they put a special focus on young people, hoping to dispel a "glamorization" of eating disorders that exists within that generation. “While media doesn’t cause eating disorders, it does exacerbate that this thin ideal is what you need to be,” Saffran said.

And while the number of children affected by eating disorders have dramatically risen, they’re hardly the only age group suffering. The National Eating Disorders Association says that in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a “clinically significant” eating disorder at some time in their life.

Saffran said awareness of eating disorders is important because knowledge about a disorder can help someone recover or even recognize they have it. She said some people suffering from a disorder don’t even realize their habits are a problem.

“The scary thing is, you don’t realize in most cases that it’s really become a problem until after you’ve crossed that line and it spirals very, very quickly,” Saffran said.

In fact, Saffran said, for many, “it’s a very thin line between normal healthy dieting ... and extreme eating disorder.”

Rosenman said her disorder took the form of dispassion for things like sports, which previously she loved. "I was really only participating in the sports to lose weight," she said, adding that she also withdrew from friends.

“For about 5 years, I was just a very quiet girl who didn’t want to participate in anything," she said.

Following what she thought was a full recovery, Saffran said she relapsed when she reached her teens and was hospitalized four times in her freshman year of high school.

Saffran said it was “hard to stand up and say, ‘I want to recover,' but with treatment and support, both she and Rosenman made full recoveries. It's an accomplishment they strive to help others achieve.

Rosenman said a large part of stopping eating disorders is joining together in the effort. “I think that we do need to work as a society to raise awareness to eating disorders,” she said.

Saffran said the most important message to anyone suffering is one of hope.

“We believe that making a full recovery is 100 percent possible," she said.

*National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is Feb. 23, 2014 - March 1, 2014

By the numbers: Eating Disorders

1 in 10: The number of men and women who receive treatment for eating disorders

50: The percentage of girls who use unhealthy weight control methods like skipping meals, fasting, vomiting, etc.

81: The percentage of 10-year-olds who are afraid of being fat

30,000: The cost, per month, to care for a patient with an eating disorder

10,000,000: The number of men who suffer from eating disorders

20,000,000: The number of women who suffer from eating disorders

SOURCES: National Eating Disorders Association and National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders