Eating disorders are known to be prevalent inside the fashion industry, but what about the military? As the number of women who enlist in the armed forces increases, so do the rates of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

Eating disorders, at their core, provide an afflicted individual with a newfound sense of control over her body. This sort of mentality proves especially empowering to women of the armed forces who are forced to maintain rigid physical standards or risk being discharged. The Marines are known to have the most rigorous and grueling physical fitness test, and many service members, both women and men, find it difficult to achieve these high standards of expectation. For women (ages 17-26), they are expected to complete 50 crunches in two minutes, a “flexed-arm hang” for 15 seconds, and a 3-mile run in 31:00, according to Additionally, a woman who is 5’4” (the average height of today’s female) should weigh between 110-146 pounds.

In order to maintain this top-tier level of both physical fitness and endurance, many women turn to eating disorders in order to meet these expectations. Bulimia nervosa requires that a person physically “purge” the food they have eaten, which results weight management, and even weight loss due to the expulsion of “water weight” that vomiting entails. Bulimia can also help relieve emotional stress, such as the mental strain that combat entails.

But bulimia can be life-threatening if left untreated, and unfortunately, the Marines are not letting up on their physical fitness requirements any time soon, which allows afflicted women to potentially harbor their eating disorders for years. Repeated, long-term exposure to harsh stomach acid eventually destroys the upper GI tract, causing many digestive issues down the road. But a more short-term danger occurs when a woman loses so much weight so that her physical body cannot support itself anymore, which can lead to death.

Quite possibly, those military women who struggle with eating disorders also struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively.

In order to feel more in control of her body and sense of reality, a woman can turn towards an eating disorder to regain control of the aspects of her life that have quickly become disarrayed. But any woman suffering from either an eating disorder, PTSD, or both, should seek medical attention immediately. Although, seeking help through the VA is strongly discouraged, especially with the number of growing scandals linked back to the VA and its recurring cases of negligence. Instead, this women should consult outside organizations for more holistic and responsible rehabilitation.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.