recognizing eating disorders

Understanding and Recognizing Eating Disorders

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I wanted to address this increasingly common issue and shed some light on the best way to help someone you suspect might have an eating disorder.

First, consider these statistics:

  • In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified)
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
  • 50-80% of the risk for anorexia and bulimia is genetic

Eating disorders can develop at any age and appear in individuals of all races and ethnicities. These disorders are often common among athletes in sports that emphasize leanness or a certain body type (such as bodybuilding, gymnastics, figure skating, and cross country).

Typically, disordered behaviors first appear as the ostensible pursuit of healthy eating or athletic performance.

Other Possible Signs

  • Often eating alone, away from friends or family
  • Significant weight loss
  • Loss of menstrual period (for women with anorexia nervosa)
  • Hyperactivity or compulsive exercise
  • Comments about being fat or overweight despite being underweight

Confronting Someone with an Eating Disorder

Confronting someone who may have an eating disorder is easier said than done; very often, the individuals affected won’t be aware of the severity of their condition and may deny that a problem exists at all. NEDA (the National Eating Disorder Association) offers several helpful tips if you have a friend or family member who may be suffering from an eating disorder, some of which include:

  • Learn as much as you can about eating disorders so you can understand the victim’s thoughts and struggles with food
  • Know the difference between facts and myths in regards to nutrition and fitness to enable you to explain the discrepancy in the victim’s behavior vs. what is considered healthy
  • Compliment them on qualities unrelated to their appearance (creativity, sense of humor, etc.)
  • Be honest about what your concerns are; never judge or criticize, but emphasize that you are worried and want to make sure they are healthy
  • Refer them to a dietitian or other health professional with expertise in treating eating disorders

Treatment can be very effective for helping individuals recover from eating disorders, but outcomes are significantly better when treatment is started early. If you have concerns, don’t brush them aside.

You can’t force someone to get treatment, but you never know who might be the positive influence that helps someone with an eating disorder address his or her situation. It could be you.

For more information, please see the links below:

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