West Point Grad Battles Eating Disorder

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"The pressure from the chain of command is to be fit, but in my mind that translated to skinny," said Beaudean.

After commissioning, Beaudean was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

"By that time, bulimia no longer because a decision," she said. "There was an addictive behavior in place."

When Beaudean felt she had "one bite too many," she said, she felt an overwhelming anxiety come over her and a natural reaction to run to the bathroom.

But all the while, she kept her illness a secret, and called herself a "functioning bulimic." No one suspected there was anything wrong.

The military, much like professional sports, appears to be an environment where eating disorders are more likely to develop, according to experts. The environment cultivates severe pressures to attain and maintain peak physical condition marked with regular weigh-ins.

Although female height-weight standards differ by numbers from men, women are expected to maintain standards equivalent to male soldiers.

But male soldiers may be just as much at risk for eating disorders as their female counterparts, said Dennis.

"Historically, people think of eating disorders as a woman's disease," she said. "And there's some of that mentality of segmenting it just to women."

Although soldiers look physically fit, many crash diet, and some resort to starving before physical tests so they can meet the weight standards. Appetite suppressants, laxatives and other supplements run rampant within the military.

"There are both men and women with active eating disorders," said Dennis. "It's a lot easier to hide an eating disorder than an alcohol and drug problem."

A 2009 study by officers at the Naval Post Graduate School found that nearly one in three Marines turned to excessive and, at times, unhealthy methods to meet the weight standards.

These methods can open doors to a diagnosis Dennis described as "eating disorder not otherwise specified" -- a term used to define binge eating, or extreme dieting and physical activity, that may not meet the clear-cut definition of more commonly known terms like anorexia or bulimia.

Many military bases have most recently pulled commonly used dietary supplements containing an ingredient known as dimethylamylamine (DMAA) from store shelves after toxicology reports for two male soldiers who died of heart attacks during fitness exercises identified the ingredient in their systems. DMAA has been advertised in dietary supplements as a way to burn fat and increase energy, but some experts liken the ingredient to ephedra, a stimulant that's been linked to deaths of many professional athletes.

According to Dr. Angela Guarda, director of the eating disorder program at Johns Hopkins Medicine, long-term health risks of eating disorders include depleting potassium levels that can lead to heart problems, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, infertility, and depression.

"Just educating people about their risk is not effective to prevent an eating disorder," said Guarda. "Teaching healthy nutritional principles for a balanced diet or changes in lifestyle behavior may be more useful."

While the pressures she felt during her time in the military contributed to her eating disorder, Beaudean said her circumstances may not be as uncommon as some of the pressures felt more widely to stay thin.

"If an eating disorder can happen among the best of us, then truly, eating disorders are everywhere," said Beaudean. "It is everywhere in every walk of life, often in secret."

For more information on Eating Disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association

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