Most people would probably say that they know at least a little bit about eating disorders. They are talked about in health class and you may know someone who has in the past, or is currently struggling with one or more eating disorders.
Samantha Hoover of Calvert County knows firsthand how an eating disorder can affect you, your family, and your life.
“I’ve been suffering since early middle school, late elementary school,” said Hoover. “There isn’t an exact date but if I had to pick a time that would be it.”
Hoover struggled with both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.
“I kept it a pretty good secret,” she said. “No one suspected anything; I was never what people would think of as looking sick.”
Hoover said that her best friend, Amanda Roberson, found out about her disorder when Roberson moved into Hoover’s home.
“She was pushing me to get better but she didn’t know how to handle it so it was just really stressful,” said Hoover.
Roberson told a woman that she and Hoover were both close with, Pat Major, about Hoover’s disorder.
“At first I was mad,” said Hoover. “Most people don’t want help. I was happy. It’s weird what the whole disorder does to your brain. It really affects every aspect of your life.”
Hoover said that she broke down to Major and told her everything. She said that Major immediately started looking for treatment facilities, what treatments insurances would cover, and what steps to take.
“It was really overwhelming,” she said. “But helpful, because, for me, if I wait too long I’ll drop the ball. At that point I was reluctant; I didn’t want to give it up. As weird as it is that was my best friend, my secret.”
Hoover made an appointment with her doctor, which Major attended with her, after that Hoover told her parents about her disorder.
After Hoover’s second doctor’s appointment the doctor advised that she go to treatment.
In February 2014 Hoover went to Sheppard Pratt for a little over three months, moving through the three different levels of treatment, inpatient, outpatient and a day hospital program. She has now been in recovery for almost a year.
“It’s hard,” she said. “They don’t like to tell anybody that they are 100 percent recovered because they don’t want you to lose sight of keeping it on track. It’s a lot of conscious effort in recovery. I still struggle with it all the time.”
Eating disorders often co-occur with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. There are also many health side effects that eating disorders can cause.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Just like with Hoover, eating disorders often begin at a young age. 42 percent of first through third graders want to be thinner, according to North Dakota University Eating Disorder Statistics.
Along with this 46 percent of nine-to eleven-year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 81 percent of ten year olds are afraid of being fat.
Over 50 percent of teenage girls and over 33 percent of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as binging, purging, laxative abuse, etc.
As eating disorders progress, the purpose becomes deeper than “I want to be thin.”
“For me it wasn’t even just about my body,” she said. “I mean it was, but it was about control. It was the one thing that I could control.”
Hoover said as she grew up she would switch between Anorexia and Bulimia. She said that she saw the videos shown in health, that are meant to be warnings, as tips on how to be better.
“There’s always that little voice in your head saying ‘Oh you can do this a lot better’,” she said. “It is difficult. I always have that voice, and some days it’s really strong and other days it’s just like ‘Yeah, shut up, whatever. I got this.’ It’s like I have someone sitting next to me during meals saying ‘You don’t need to eat that.’”
She said that she really has to focus on eating and not returning to her old habits.
Hoover said that another one of the biggest problems recovering is the lack of coverage that many insurance companies have for mental health treatments.
She said that often insurances will only cover a certain amount of time in treatment, or only cover a fraction of the cost, which sometimes makes it impossible for people to get the help they need.
Hoover said that some people were discharged because they hit a certain weight and insurance would not cover treatment costs anymore.
Funding for research and treatment of other diseases and illnesses seems to have prevalence over eating disorders.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) 30 million Americans have an eating disorder as of 2011 and National Institute of Health (NIH) funding for eating disorder research and treatment is $28 million per year while 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and research and treatment receives NIH funding of $450 million per year.
After realizing the magnitude of eating disorders Hoover has been inspired to inform others.
“I always knew it was a problem but I never knew globally how many people it impacted,” said Hoover. “So that’s what got me interested in spreading awareness.”
Hoover said she saw on Facebook that there was going to be a NEDA walk to help bring awareness and decided she wanted to participate. She decided to form a team because she only needed three people in order to do so.
Theo Holloway, with the help of Sue James, designed and donated 30 shirts to Hoover’s team.
“I ended up getting 27 people to walk and we raised $1,025,” she said. “I don’t even have words for it, to see that many people come together. I was in a time where I was not as recovery-focused and recovery-motivated as I should’ve been and to look around and see 27 people that were there for me really helped.”
Hoover hopes to bring awareness to Southern Maryland in the future.
“Hopefully next summer (2016), fingers crossed, I’m going to organize a walk in Solomons,” she said. “You have to be out of treatment for two years (before organizing a large event) because the stress and the pressure can send you into a downward spiral.”
Hoover’s mother attempted to find information and help while Hoover was in treatment but the awareness in Southern Maryland is severely lacking, according to them. Hoover said people do not know how to help or what to look for and she wants to change that.
“I just wish more people knew about it,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. Thinking back to my rock bottoms, and I had plenty of them, I would never want anybody to feel like that. I was so excited about this (article) because if one parent can read this and think ‘my kids doing this’ or ‘my daughter, my son, my aunt, my uncle’, anyone. Or if one person will go to treatment or therapy and just get support (I would be so excited).”
Contact Jessica Goodell at firstname.lastname@example.org