It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a topic close to my heart. Eating disorders have touched my life, many of my friends’ lives and hundreds of clients I’ve worked with. This week is incredibly important. Awareness and education to those suffering from eating disorders and the public SAVES LIVES. Without information and awareness, many struggle silently, which can be deadly. Don’t let this happen to a loved one, friend or yourself.
I’m no stranger to the ED (eating disorder) world. As a teenager I too struggled with an eating disorder, this lead me to get help and after countless therapists that “didn’t get it,” I finally found someone who helped me change my life. This is why I went into psychotherapy, so I could help more young adults in the caring, compassionate and radically genuine way that Tracey helped me. This is just a part of my story, a story that many people struggle with everyday, and why I love that NEDA provides education through National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
Parents, teachers, health care practitioners, even psychotherapists, don’t catch the symptoms until they have become habitual and harmful for ones body. Whether its Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia or Body Dysmorphic Disorder, someone you know is suffering. NEDA’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week provides hope, insight and education for everyone on ED.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
In the United States alone, it’s estimated more than 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any identified mental illness. Yes, you read that right. And when you look around at the media, the obsession with the ideal image and the pressure put on teens and adults to look thin, how is this not the perfect storm for developing an eating disorder?! Eating disorders can develop during any stage in life. Often times they develop when an individual doesn’t have the coping skills to manage their feelings. This typically occurs during the teen years or young adulthood.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week invites you to get involved. Use the #NEDAwareness on social media to get information and connect with others. Read the research, get knowledgeable about what ED looks like; it is very complicated. Whether you’re a parent, concerned friend, family member or suffering from an eating disorder yourself, get the tools you need to save someones life. Eating disorders are long lasting and, without the right help, can impact someone for the rest of their life.
Just yesterday I was talking to a bright and beautiful young adult. She thought that if she regained her period (from the months of restricting) she would be considered “healthy” again. In her mind, she thought this would mean she no longer has an eating disorder. She read this online somewhere and her parents and doctor put so much emphasis on ONE of the factors to healing from an eating disorder, they didn’t explain the rest. She didn’t know that over-exercising was part of her problem. Her preoccupation with her body or her anxiety over food choices were also still indications that she was suffering from Anorexia. This crushed her, but it also gave her information she desperately needed for recovery. This is why National Eating Disorder Awareness Week Exists. We need to give people the right information on Eating Disorders so they can get the right help.
How Do Eating Disorders Impact Mental Health?
Eating disorders are mental health disorders and involve treatment for medical illness. Your body and mind are ill. Eating disorders can impact anyone. They can affect females, males, teenagers or the elderly. These conditions are treatable, but they can oftentimes be hard to notice and life-threatening. Many times, eating disorders coexist with other illnesses and conditions.
Types of Eating Disorders
While this list includes many of the most common types of eating disorders, eating disorders can manifest in many different ways. For more information on Eating Disorders please visit NEDA’s homepage.
Anorexia Nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder defined by extreme weight-loss, low BMI (body mass index), fear of gaining weight, a distorted idea of body image and a fixation with having a thin figure.
Anorexia is a tricky disease. There generally isn’t one reason it develops. Different internal and external factors including society’s obsession with thinness, family pressure to be perfect, careers that promote thinness (i.e. modeling, dance, ballet), childhood trauma, depression, anxiety, unspoken or spoken pressure from friends and family to be thin.
Anorexia: Signs & Symptoms
Individuals with anorexia may show a number of these signs and symptoms:
- Being extremely underweight, usually a significant change from years or months prior
- Obsession with calories or fat in food
- Chronic dieting
- Cutting food into tiny pieces
- Cooking meals for other but not eating themselves
- Always eating alone
- Absence of menstruation (amenorrhea)
- Fine, soft hairs on the face and body (lanugo)
- Always feeling cold
- Loss/thinning hair
- Being isolated or withdrawn, avoiding social functions or hanging out with friends and family
Bulimia Nervosa is often seen as ingesting large amounts or food and, to avoid gaining weight, purging the food shortly after. This does not just include vomiting: bulimia also includes excessive use of laxatives and diuretics, or extreme exercising. Since these episodes are oftentimes done in secret, this disorder can be hard to notice and can be concealed for extended periods of time.
Often, it can be a combination of multiple psychological, environmental and cultural influences that bring about Bulimia. Much like with Anorexia Nervosa, causes of Bulimia include: stressful transitions in life, trauma or abuse, negative body image and low self-esteem and/or professions heavily reliant on appearance.
Bulimia: Signs & Symptoms
Physical signs and symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa include:
- Chronic dehydration
- Constant weight loss or gain
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes
- Lacerations around the mouth or throat (from vomiting)
- Inflammation in the esophagus
- Enlarged glans in the neck or under the jaw
- Gastric reflux after eating
- Eating alone, lying about eating
- Frequently using the bathroom after eating
- Smelling like vomit
- Switching between overeating and fasting
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Individuals suffering from BED often feel disgust or guilt after each episode and many times suffer from depression and anxiety as well. They oftentimes use food to cope. Causes of BED include hormonal irregularities and genetics for food addiction, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, trauma, social pressures to be thin, difficulty coping with feelings, intense emotions and lack of skills to regulate these and/or critical comments about their bodies from friends and family.
Binge Eating Disorder: Signs & Symptoms
Those who suffer from BED are often embarrassed and feel shame about their eating habits; their behaviors are many times hidden. Pay close attention for any of these signs:
- Eating even after full and inability to stop being
- Keeping food to eat secretly at a later time
- Lying about food and meals
- Concerns from medical staff about weight gain
- Guilt and dissatisfaction with food
- Eating normally in public but overeating while alone after
- Feeling relieved from stress or anxiety through eating
- Lack of sensation or numbness while eating
- Never feeling satisfied from eating
Many of the consequences from BED include: Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, insomnia or sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, muscle or joint pain, depression or anxiety, gastrointestinal problems and gallbladder disease.
Orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession eating healthy. It literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Many specialists don’t formally diagnose Orthorexia, but it does co-exist with other eating disorders. The obsession with eating “right” or well becomes overwhelming. One fixates on eating “perfectly” and is often overly critical of themselves. For more information on Orthorexia check out this article.
Signs & Symptoms of Orthorexia
- Obsession with eating clean or adherence to a diet
- Having a sense of superiority based on diet
- Feelings of immense guilt when they cannot eat this way, will restrict
- Using healthy eating as a means to feel in control
- Feeling pride for resisting food
What You Can Do to Help a Friend or Loved One?
Check out National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and get educated. When talking to a friend or loved one be empathetic when dealing with eating disorders. Avoid using the word fat, especially in front of children. Notice if you label others based on their appearance, if you do, try and stop. Others are picking up on this and may feel that you are judging them too. Learn to emphasize inner beauty over outer appearances. Be mindful of nourishment and use that to talk about food rather than calories with your friends and avoid obsessing over diets or eating healthy.
Above all else show compassion. Even if you don’t understand, attempt to understand that someone who is struggling with an eating disorder is suffering. You may not know the right thing to say but you can just be there for them, accept that they are not well and help them get the help they need.
Take Good Care,
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is The Guidance Girl. Her goal is to help YOU become the most confident person you know! Emily is an award-winning author Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, Educational Speaker, and parenting consultant. She travels around the country educating girls, women, and parents. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.