February 22-28 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDA Week).
In a world where you can’t open an app, turn on the TV, or glance at a magazine rack without seeing a model with the “perfect look,” body image issues are widely common amongst teens and young adults. Although mainstream media has taken strides towards inclusivity, the pressure to look a certain way is ever-present. And studies show that up to 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder.
In honor of NEDA Week, we’re discussing how to recognize and help someone who’s battling an eating disorder. In addition, the Eating Recovery Center is hosting virtual events and online discussions that can be found here.
Spotting an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders come in many different forms: restrictive food intake, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, obsessive exercising, and more. People often struggle silently for years with these issues.
Among others, these are three common warning signs of an eating disorder:
1. Changes in weight: Not everyone struggling with an eating disorder will appear overtly under-weight. Significant weight loss from anorexia tends to be more noticeable than with bulimia, but eating disorders can affect people at any weight. Rapid weight loss or frequent weight fluctuation are things to look out for.
2. Changes in eating and exercise patterns: You may notice someone stops eating around others, doesn’t eat foods they used to love, or drinks excessive amounts of water or caffeine to suppress their appetite. Other signs like cutting food into tiny pieces, hiding food in a napkin, or habitually using the bathroom after every meal are common with eating disorders. Concerning behavior also includes obsessively counting calories, ritualistically exercising, and getting irrationally upset when their exercise routine is disturbed.
3. Fixated on body image: If someone is spending an inordinate amount of time looking in the mirror, staring at pictures of themselves, picking apart their features, and avoiding social events, it may be cause for concern. Although these actions alone don’t always point to an eating disorder, having a negative body image can lead down a slippery slope.
Physical signs of an eating disorder include hair loss, constant fatigue, yellow-colored skin, fainting spells, overall poor health, and more.
How to Help
Because eating disorders and mental health go hand in hand, it’s essential that a loved one steps to help once they start noticing harmful behavior.
Eating disorders are a sensitive subject that can often be met with denial, so it’s important to approach the topic from a loving place. Understand that opening this conversation will require patience, understanding, and unwavering support moving forward.
You can start with a trip to the doctor’s office to determine any medical issues or mental health conditions that need to be addressed. Based on the individual’s needs, their healthcare provider can suggest the proper medical treatment, nutritional counseling, therapy, or help needed to recover. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, we encourage you to tell a loved one and seek help. To speak to someone immediately, contact the National Eating Disorder Helpline at 800-931-2237.
This NEDA Week, let’s fight to end the stigma surrounding eating disorders by raising awareness and helping those who may be suffering.