Ginger Zee opens up about struggle with eating disorder to help raise awareness

One-in-ten Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Of the 30 million Americans who will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives, 10 million of them are men, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Women and men of all races suffer from these potentially deadly conditions each year.

During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Ginger Zee of "Good Morning America" opened up about her past struggle with anorexia nervosa to help raise awareness about eating disorders and explain how people can help.

Zee said she had anorexia nervosa for more than a decade and still feels the effects of it today.

"It's not about the food. It's about control. It's about the shame you feel. It's about the mind," she said. "That's what it is. That's what makes it a disease like any other - a disorder like any other. That's why I think it's had such a stigma."

With proper treatment, Zee was able to overcome her disorder and lead a healthier life. But she said not everyone has access to treatment. Giva Wilkerson, who heads Project HEAL, wants to change that.



"I remember lying in bed. The hunger pains were so intense that I began to cry. I said to myself, 'All you have to do is go downstairs and get something to eat,' and I wouldn't do it," Wilkerson said. "I was crying because I was hungry, but too, because I was afraid to eat."

Both women recalled that their struggles began when they were young.

"You know, when you're a teenager, there are so many things that you're dealing with. For me to be able to hold my food, it was just, 'At least I can take control of this,'" Wilkerson said.

Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, next to opioid abuse. They are wildly underdiagnosed and underfunded.

Project HEAL, founded in 2008, provides support to those suffering from eating disorders and works to raise funds for those who can't afford treatment.

"I think there's a huge misconception out there that this illness only affects thin, young, white affluent women," Wilkerson said. "You have people of all genders, all races, all classes, all cultures, coming together to talk about this illness that has affected their lives."



"Upwards of 70 percent of people who may have an eating disorder do not have treatment," said Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist. "The top reasons why: the fact that they're ashamed, access to adequate medical treatment, going to a doctor's office and not being asked about patterns of eating and just, a focus on weight."

"It's so expensive and it's so hard to get. Honestly, it's important for you not only have access treatment, but access to treatment that's close by," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said she hopes that by speaking out, she can help people who may be suffering in silence.

"Who would have thought that just me, regular old me, could now be someone that people can identify with - that people want to talk to about this - who could potentially help someone," Wilkerson said.

Zee said one of the best ways to support someone trying to overcome an eating disorder is to be patient.

"It's not something that will be over with tomorrow. My mom had to deal with me having it for a long time. My husband still has to deal with me having little glimmers of it or hints of it, especially in transition," Zee said.

Here are some other ways people can help:
-Talk about specific behaviors or concerns
-Help schedule an appointment with a doctor
-Contact the NEDA helpline: 1-800-931-2237

For more information on Project HEAL, visit www.theprojectheal.org.

For more information about the National Eating Disorders Association, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.