LifestyleHealth Week


Thousands of Hoosiers suffer with eating disorders, here's what you need to know

Posted at 7:35 AM, Mar 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-04 07:35:56-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Eating Disorder Awareness Week just wrapped up, but experts say this is an issue that should be top of mind all year round.

About 590,000 people in Indiana that will have an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to a report from Harvard University.

Anyone, regardless of age, race or gender, can be affected.

“The assumption is never ‘oh, he has an eating disorder,’” Ben Fong said.

When Fong was younger, he never knew anything was wrong with his health.

The Fishers native thought being underweight was a good thing.

Ben Fong

“I was about the same height that I am now, which is around 5’7, 5’8. But I weighed about 80 pounds," Fong said.

He’ll never forget being praised for his body in middle school.

“I was the shy loner kid and there was this one popular girl… She was like ‘OMG I’m so jealous. I weigh like 90 pounds.’ She was like ‘I wish I could be that skinny,’” Fong said.

Growing up in an abusive household added fuel to the fire.

"I couldn’t control much in my life. Eating was something I could control. So if I went to school with a lunch I would put things in my napkin and throw them away or give away my food to friends," Fong said.

Ben Fong

It wasn’t until years later, while at Indiana University, that he realized he had a problem, sought therapy and started treatment.

“I thought it was more of a women’s body issue,” he said.

A myth therapist Reggie Ash is trying to dispel.

“There’s the restricting and there’s the food piece. It also manifests in overexercising. We’ve heard the word purging. People assume purging is making yourself throw up. Purging is also over exercising or taking laxatives," Ash, the Director of Therapy at Equip Health said.

Equip is a virtual eating disorder program that works with with clients in all 50 states.

Ash works with clients with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and more.

“It looks like the person that you’re talking to, right across from you, or somebody that you see in a restaurant, or somebody at the gym. You just don’t know," Ash said.

He says some ways you can identify someone in your life may be struggling is:

  • Eating less
  • Exercising more
  • Isolation
  • Reduced interactions with friends and family
  • Rapid weight loss or gain in a short period of time

If you plan to approach this person, Ash says lead with curiosity, compassion and concern.
“There’s so much relief for people when they see that people care in a non-judgmental way," Ash said. "Not in an attacking way. Not in a way that ‘you have to get help for this.’ But in a way of ‘are you okay?’”

The National Institute of Mental Health reports suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia.

If you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat at