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One woman's fight against eating disorders

February 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
On any given day, experts say nearly half of all women across the country are dieting. America's obsession with weight has turned into a $40 billion a year industry.

On top of America's obsession with being thin are growing concerns over childhood obesity. But experts are concerned parents sending negative messages about weight to their children.

The National Eating Disorders Association hopes a provocative new campaign will make parents think before they speak.

"When you start to pick at a child and shame them about their weight it's not going to encourage them to become healthy," said author Stephanie Covington Armstrong.

Her battle with eating disorders started in her early teens.

"If you don't love yourself then you're not going to take really good care of yourself," she said. "And I think that's why people wind up with addictions because you don't feel worthy."

It started with bulimia, binging and purging, and later progressed to orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with healthy foods.

"It's almost like my color kept me from being recognized. Because I was African American it was just assumed that I wasn't going to have that problem," said Armstrong.

Her book, "Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat," challenges this misperception. Experts say eating disorders are just as prevalent among minorities as it is in the white population.

Fifty percent of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight. While that lack of self esteem may be the trigger, Armstrong says it's that desire to be in control that takes over.

"A lot of people think you have an eating disorder [because] you just want to be skinny. Well, it's not that. It's a coping mechanism, what you really want is to have control," said Armstrong.

Through the help of 12-step recovery programs, Armstrong now has a very healthy attitude about food and life, and she shares that with her daughters.

"If there's one thing I would tell parents is to stop discussing your children's weight with them. Do not. You pick up healthy habits and then through your healthy habits you teach your children," said Armstrong.

The National Eating Disorders Association will debut its new PSA campaign during New York's Fashion Week. The goal is to send a strong message to parents and to an industry obsessed with the skinny model image.