Tragically, eating disorders impact millions of people every year in the U.S. And while they don’t just affect teenagers, they frequently begin during the preteen and teen years, sometimes starting a lifelong battle with body image and the way we see ourselves.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and the official theme is “I Had No Idea.” NEDA.org explains that they hope the theme will “raise awareness towards the significant impact eating disorders have on individuals, families, and communities across the nation. The more people who learn about these life-threatening illnesses, the more lives we can save.”
While working to reduce the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improve access to treatment resources, NEDA also helps to reach women and men all over the world who are struggling with an eating disorder or who know and love someone who is. As stated on the official site, “Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses–not choices–and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder.”
Whether it’s you or a loved one who has been affected, or even if you don’t know anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, it’s important to stay informed about them and what to do if you think that you or someone you know might have one.
WHAT EXACTLY IS AN EATING DISORDER?
Eating disorders–which include anorexia, bulimia and binging–can cause extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues (NEDA.org). According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these are the basic characteristics of some of the most common types of eating disorders:
- Restricting food intake to below the requirements for a particular individuals physical requirements
- Intense fear of weight gain and obsession with weight and continual behaviors to prevent weight gain
- Inability to recognize true body shape or recognize the seriousness of condition
- May or may not use binge eating and/or purging behaviors
- Eating an unusually large amount of food at one time followed by compensatory behaviors (such as vomiting, taking laxatives and/or excessive exercise) to prevent weight gain
- A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating occurrence
- Self-judgment largely based on weight and shape
Binge Eating Disorder:
- Recurrent situations of eating an unusually large amount of food at one time
- A feeling of being out of control during the behavior
- May have feelings of shame or guilt towards eating which can lead to eating alone
- May eat until the individual is beyond full to the point of discomfort
BEHAVIORS TO LOOK OUT FOR
It’s easy to think that if someone has an eating disorder, it will be painfully obvious because of her rapid or dramatic weight loss and the fact that you never see her eat. And while those certainly are signs to look out for, there are others that are just as important. NEDA.org has a brief list of signs, symptoms and behaviors to watch for if you suspect one of your friends may have an eating disorder:
- Makes frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight
- In general, behaviors and attitudes indicate that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns
- Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of wrappers and containers indicating consumption or large amounts of food
- Evidence of purging behavior, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
- Develops food rituals (e.g., eats only a particular food or food group, excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch, etc.)
- Skips meals or takes small portions of food at regular meals
- Hides body with baggy clothes
- Maintains excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury—because of the need to “burn off” calories
- Drinks excessive amounts of water and/or uses excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints and gum
HOW TO HELP
NEDA.org points out that when beginning to talk to a loved one about a potential eating disorder, it’s best to come at it from a loving and supportive angle. Here is the NEDA’s recommended Dos and Don’ts:
- Learn the difference between facts and myths about weight, nutrition and exercise
- Ask what you can do to help
- Listen openly and reflectively; be patient and non-judgmental
- Talk with the person in a kind way, when you are not angry, frustrated or upset
- Explain the reasons for your concerns, without mentioning specific eating behavior
- Ask if he/she is willing to explore these concerns with a healthcare professional who understands eating disorders
- Remind your loved one that many people have successfully recovered from an eating disorder
- Demand weight changes (even if it’s clinically necessary for health)
- Insist the person eat every type of food at the table
- Make eating, food, clothes or appearance the focus of conversation
- Offer more help than you are qualified to give
- Call NEDA’s toll-free, confidential Helpline, Monday-Thursday from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm and Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (EST) at 1-800-931-2237.
- You can also chat with someone at NEDA here.
- Get more facts and resources on this page.
Struggling with an eating disorder? Reflect on God’s word using these 5 powerful scriptures, be steadfast in prayer and SEEK OUTSIDE HELP from a trusted adult or the resources listed above.
- Psalms 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
- Romans 5:20 But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.
- Psalms 55:22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
- Jeremiah 32:27 Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?
- Hebrews 13:6 The LORD is my helper, I will not fear.
PI Girls, remember that you are NEVER alone. If you need prayers, comment below and the PI community will pray for you.