Did you know that next week marks the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness Week? According to the National Eating Disorder Association, it has been estimated that in the United States alone there are 20 million women and 10 million men that battle eating disorders. It should come at no surprise in a society that is focused on physical appearance and quick results, obtaining a healthy relationship with food often gets pushed to the back burner. Eating disorders are often not spoken about and in many cases go undiagnosed. Fortunately, there are many organizations that are working hard on the front lines to bring this issue to light. For more information on resources you can visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-links.
I previously was doing some research online and I came across an article that was discussing the fact that many people with eating disorders tend to not seek help due to feeling like they are not at the point to where they need help or it is “not bad enough”. Which brings me to my next point --- with this stigma engrained, how do we know when we or a loved one need help? There are many signs and symptoms, but below is just a of the warning signs.
Signs or Symptoms of Eating Disorders
-Dramatic weight loss or weight gain
-Change in eating routine or rituals
-Only eating small portions
-Increased desire to isolate when eating
-Obsession with physical appearance
-Frequently visiting the bathroom after meals
-Hiding food or wrappers
-Frequently dieting or looking for quick weight loss regimens
-Obsession with weight
-Uncomfortable eating around others
-Excessive physical activity
-Elimination and/or obsession with entire food groups or specific foods (example: no grains or no dairy)
-Change in mood or loss of interest in hobbies
-Isolating from loved ones
Breaking the Mold
I believe one of the biggest lies that the media tells us is that to have an eating disorder you have to look a certain way. Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders do not have a specific face or look. In fact, when you look in the mirror the reflection you see staring back at you may be the same of someone with an eating disorder. I think this myth is probably one of the leading contributors to people not receiving the help they need. Mental health has no face and it certainly does not fit in a box, as it looks different for everyone. Another common barrier to getting help is that it is portrayed that the condition must be “bad enough” in order to seek help. All too often I find that people wait to seek help until they are very deep in their eating disorder. I always wonder what would have happened if they would have sought help sooner or someone would have spoken up about their concerns.
I would love to tell you that healthcare professionals will always be able to identify those who have an eating disorder and the treatment process will begin immediately, but it would be a lie. I would love to tell you that we will always have just the right words to say, but that, too, would be a lie. What I can tell you is that more and more healthcare professionals are taking the time to educate themselves on how to help those in need and to recognize the signs. Whether someone is in the midst of an eating disorder or just needs help putting food back in its proper place there are several healthcare professionals that can help. If you are concerned that you may have an eating disorder or may need help with your relationship with food, then one of the best things you can do is speak up. Don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns with your primary care physician, counselor or dietitian.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with a challenge --- take the steps to learn and educate yourselves on the warning signs and don’t be afraid to speak up if you suspect you or a loved one may have an eating disorder. It is never too late or too early to seek help and find freedom.
What resources are available should you suspect you or a loved one has an eating disorder?
You can call the helpline at the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237.