by Gina Stallone
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year, the theme is It’s Time to Talk About It because it’s time we explore the various eating disorders, shed light on what is normally considered a taboo subject, and discuss the many life-saving resources that exist.
Eating disorders often involve extreme emotions, attitudes, & behaviors surrounding food and weight. They are real, complex conditions, which can have serious consequences for the person’s health and for the various relationships in his/her life. An eating disorder is not a fad or a phase…or even a lifestyle choice. Rather, these disorders are serious and potentially life threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. The sooner a person seeks treatment, the more likely he/she is to recover physically…and emotionally.
Let’s break down a few common eating disorders so you can recognize a problem when and if you see one:
- Anorexia: A person suffering from this disorder does not eat, or does not eat an adequate amount of calories/nutrients to sustain daily living. By denying the body its essential nutrients, the body is forced to slow down in order to conserve energy. This results in the following: abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), muscle loss and weakness, severe dehydration, dry hair and skin (hair loss is common), fainting, fatigue, & overall weakness. Additionally, Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
–Atypical Anorexia – A person suffering from this disorder will have many of the same symptoms as those with Anorexia. The difference is the person will exhibit those symptoms without weight loss. They are often within or above normal weight range, making their presentation “atypical.” A person struggling with Atypical Anorexia may exhibit an extreme fear of being fat or of any weight changes and resort to abnormal eating behaviors, such as calorie counting, cutting out certain foods/food groups, avoiding social events and functions that involve food, and more. Many individuals who have Atypical Anorexia may not even realize that they are struggling with a severe and deadly eating disorder, simply due to the weight stigma that surrounds this disease. A person may think, “I am not sick enough to have an eating disorder,” because he/she may be within or above a normal weight range.
- Bulimia: This is when a person will consume large quantities of food, but often follow eating with self-induced vomiting. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system. It can lead also to electrolyte & chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Other health consequences include: potential for gastric rupture, inflammation & possible rupture of the esophagus, tooth decay & staining, chronic irregular bowel movements & constipation, peptic ulcers & pancreatitis.
- Binge Eating Disorder: Also known as Compulsive Eating Disorder, this involves frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting. There is often a feeling of shame or guilt which accompanies the binge episodes. Binge Eating Disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, Type II diabetes, & gallbladder disease.
Many people struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating. Research shows that as early as the age of 6, girls start to express concern about their own weight and that an estimated 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 are concerned with becoming too fat. 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. In fact, approximately a half million teenagers struggle with eating disorders or some sort of disordered eating. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.
There are various ways in which we can help to prevent eating disorders. Take steps to educate one another, challenge the “ideal” way to look, and spread the word about eating disorders as a whole. Genuine awareness will help avoid judgmental attitudes about weight and about food.
First, educate yourself about the body and food. This will help set a positive example for a healthy and balanced relationship with food. It is important to be healthy and not to talk about or to behave as if you are constantly dieting. Avoid categorizing foods as good versus bad, and just learn optimal ways to eat. Food should be used as fuel to power your body and to provide the essential nutrients needed for daily living. Strive to achieve a healthy balance within your diet…and within yourself.
Remember that there is no ideal or perfect body. Challenge the false belief that “thin is in.” Every person’s body is different. Weight and/or body type does not determine anything about a person’s character or personality, so there should not be any preconceived notions indicating otherwise. We need to love ourselves and our bodies and appreciate all of our good attributes instead of comparing ourselves to an impossible ideal.
Along these lines, we need to educate children in order to help them accept and enjoy their bodies. We should encourage healthy, balanced eating while encouraging physical activity. Convey the message that weight and appearance are not the most critical aspects of their identity and self-worth. Be sure to always promote and celebrate body positivity while encouraging an open & safe place for dialogue. Many warning signs for eating disorders can appear before puberty. Watch out for things such as refusing typical family meals (or skipping meals entirely), or commenting negatively about themselves or others, such as “I’m too fat; she’s too fat.” Also, pay attention if clothes shopping that becomes stressful, if they withdraw from friends, or they show signs of irritability, depression, and any signs of extreme dieting, bingeing or purging.
Remember, a person can suffer with eating disorder tendencies regardless of their size, shape, or weight. If you have found yourself struggling with abnormal eating patterns or unusual thoughts when it comes to your body and food, be sure to talk with someone you trust. If you think someone you know is struggling with any type of disordered eating, express your concern in a caring manner. Be firm but compassionate and definitely encourage the person to seek professional help. After all, life is too short to spend another day at war with yourself.
National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017. <http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/>.
The War on Women’s Bodies | National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/war-womens-bodies>.