What do you know about eating disorders? Do you know what they are, do you know who they impact? Do you know there is a National Eating Disorder Week? Yep, February 26 to March 4, 2017 is National Eating Disorder Week. And the theme is “It’s Time to Talk about It.” So, let’s talk. 

The Basics

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that impact both physical and mental well-being. They develop as a result of both nature and nurture. For instance, research in the past decade has found strong links between genetics and some eating disorders, leading researchers and clinicians to better understand the biological vulnerabilities that exist for some individuals. This has led to more effective treatment.

There is also significant research on the role of environment in the development of eating disorders. Including a cultural focus on the thin ideal, body dissatisfaction, and relationship difficulties. Eating disorders often develop initially as a way of coping with emotions or feeling a sense of control or mastery. But over time, the disorders become self-reinforcing and can become powerful-addictive processes.

The primary eating disorders include Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder, although there are many subclinical concerns that disrupt daily functioning and warrant clinical attention and treatment. Anorexia is characterized by fear of food, restrictive food intake, weight loss, body image disturbances. It also includes other behaviors aimed at weight loss, such as excessive exercise. Bulimia involves binge eating (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time and feeling out of control during the binge), and compensatory behaviors aimed at eliminating food, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative, diuretic, or diet pill use. Individuals with bulimia often are of normal weight and have considerable body image disturbances. Binge Eating Disorder is similar to bulimia except that individuals do not engage in behaviors aimed at eliminating food such as purging. These individuals may be overweight or obese.

Who do eating disorders effect?

When most people think about eating disorders, they picture a young, thin, Caucasian female. However, eating disorders affect individuals from all walks of lives, ages, ethnicities, gender, etc. Over 30 million Americans struggle with eating disorders during their lifetime. Despite the high number of those affected, eating disorders are rarely discussed openly as there tends to be a lot of secrecy and shame associated with these illnesses. Most people assume that eating disorders are disorders of control. And self-discipline is all one needs to overcome these struggles. Unfortunately, this view serves to feed shame and keep people silent about their struggles.

Are eating disorders dangerous?

Eating disorders are incredibly dangerous and carry the highest mortality of all mental illnesses. In addition to the significant mental health risks of eating disorders, there are also very serious physical health concerns associated with the three primary eating disorders. Because eating disorders are so dangerous, it is critical that people learn to talk about these illnesses so that individuals can get the help they need and potentially avoid serious health risks and complications. Because eating disorders are so dangerous, early intervention is imperative for best prognosis. If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, the sooner you speak up, reach out, and get help the sooner you or your loved one can break free of illness.

What is the treatment for eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious illnesses and require serious treatment. Treatment is best addressed by a team of professionals with specialty in treating eating disorders. Often these teams are led by psychologists or therapists with significant experience treating these concerns. Specialized dietitians are essential for addressing concerns related to nutrition, eating, and food fears. Primary care
providers help manage the physical complications of eating disorders and are critical to ensuring the health of individuals engaged in treatment. Psychiatrists (medical doctors who specialize in managing psychiatric medication needs) are often an important part of addressing mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety. Group therapy to address relational concerns, body image issues, and shame can often be a very helpful component of treatment.

Some individuals are able to address their concerns on an outpatient basis, while others need additional support and structure in the form of higher levels of care, such as day-patient, residential, or inpatient hospitalization. An experienced eating disorder therapist can help you determine what level of care may be most appropriate for you.

Is it possible to recovery from an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are significant illnesses that require focused treatment. Treatment often times takes months and years, and yet full recovery is possible. Because eating disorders affect so many aspects of an individual’s identity, comprehensive treatment takes time to fully address the myriad concerns. Plus, unlike other mental health concerns, individuals with eating disorders are often ambivalent about treatment. For many, there are components of the eating concern that bring comfort, a sense of control, and identity.  For these and other reasons, individuals can sometimes be reluctant to change their behaviors.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW)

NEDAW is the last week of February each year. Throughout the week, NEDAW aims to increase awareness of eating disorders. Through talking about eating disorders, what they are, what they aren’t, and who they impact, we can help individuals get help sooner. NEDAW is also a great opportunity to get involved and support those you love. By taking a stand against eating disorders, we learn to stand together, to challenge our culture’s obsession with thinness, and connect with true identity.

How You Can Learn More?talk about it

By learning more, you become part of the solution. By being willing to talk about eating disorders, you can help challenge the stereotypes and create a welcome space for others who may need just the kind of support you can provide. If you are in need, take that first step. Be persistent and know that your well-being is worth every effort you can make. There are many ways to learn more, here are just a few ideas.

Join me Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 12:00 at 3380 Wilkinson Student Center on the campus of Brigham Young University as I invite those gathered to Talk About It!

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Check out National Eating Disorders Association website for loads of information on eating disorders.

Contact Balance Health & Healing with questions you may have about yourself or a loved one. We know the impact of these illnesses and we are passionate about helping individuals take their lives back.

email: info@balancehealthandhealing.com or call: 801.361.8589