HOUSTON (KTRK) -- This week is national eating disorders awareness week. It's something 30 million Americans will deal with at some point in their lives.
Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating -- we all know the words that represent the life threatening diseases but when the symptoms begin to show in someone you love, how do you start the conversation? Fortunately for Houstonians, help is available.
In the silence of the dark and through the sounds of everyday life for many victims, there lies the voice of an unwelcome visitor.
"You're not good enough it will pick on you, it will tell you what to eat what not to eat," said survivor, Jenni Schaefer.
It is the voice of destruction for all who hear it and it is real.
"Genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger," Schaefer said.
Eating disorders affect millions of people each year and Houston is no exception. It knows no gender, no race, no age.
These concerns of body image and weight are showing up in Kindergartners and first graders.
And for many it will go unnoticed until it is too late. For survivor Jenni Schaefer, it took losing everything.
"Lost connection with my family and friends and I really couldn't function in life. I couldn't hold a job. I was miserable and depressed and that's when I knew I needed to reach out for help," said Schaefer.
This week marks the National Eating Disorder Association Awareness week, an an annual campaign to bring attention to the critical needs of people with eating disorders.
Specialist, Dr. Douglas Bunnell encourages families not to miss the signs.
"One of the misconceptions is that you can look at someone body or weight and you can not tell something about someone by just looking at their weight," he said.
Isolation, mood swings, exhaustion and obsessive behavior can all can be signs of trouble, but you have to communicate.
"That's one of the great barriers is the concern that if you talk about it you will somehow push people into it. I've actually found it work the other way," Dr. Bunnell said.
"They can hate you now and thank you later, it is better to take action," said survivor Shannon Cutts.
Cutts knows the story all to well.
"I woke up one day and realized I have a problem how did this happen? My intentions were good," said Cutts.
Her struggle lasted 10 years and it took 10 more to fully recover, but out of that heartache came her quest to help others and with that desire she formed, Mentor Connect, a non-profit organization that helps survivors and those in need of help to connect and support each other.
"Six years later we are global nonprofit in 44 countries," she said.
And with thousands of subscribers, the help given to those in need has changed the lives that otherwise would be lost.
"A lot of folks say, 'Well I tried it's just not working, yet, it's not working yet.' And it will work if you keep working at it, it will work," Cutts said.
And tonight through Thursday, City Hall will be glowing bright in the colors of the N.E.D.A. in hopes to bring awareness to this growing problem in our city.
For anyone that has more questions or is in need of help themselves, below are numerous links:
National Eating Disorders Helpline: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Jenni Schaefer's books: www.jennischaefer.com
Houston Eating Disorders Specialists: http://houstoneds.org/
BEATING ANA: shannoncutts.com/books
Dr. Walter Kaye & UCSD: http://eatingdisorders.ucsd.edu/faculty/kaye.shtml /
DSM-V Fact Sheet: Feeding and Eating Disorders