Eating Disorders Awareness Week is the last week of February. Eating disorders are actually life threatening illnesses that impact millions of people every year in the US. There are a number of factors that contribute to eating disorders. There are psychological factors such as low self-esteem, lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, and even loneliness to name a few. There are also interpersonal factors such as troubled personal relationships, bullying based on size or weight, and a history of abuse. Social factors such as the cultural pressure of placing value on having the “perfect body” can contribute And there is research into biological factors such as brain imbalances that control hunger, appetite, and digestion.
Unfortunately, when it comes to brain imbalances, in addition to the initial issue, the lack of nutrition the person is absorbing as the eating disorder develops exacerbates the condition. Nutrition can be key in maintaining good mental health so when someone is struggling emotionally, then adds unhealthy dietary practices, this can have a snowballing effect.
Some warning signs to look for are things like constantly adhering to a special diet regardless of weight, hoarding food, binging, habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating, compulsive exercise, consuming laxatives or diet pills, or stimulants either prescription or illicit. There can also be a withdrawal from friends and family, avoidance of meals or events with food involved, preoccupation with one’s appearance, and obsessing over calories eaten and burned. These can all indicate that you, your friend, or loved one may need help.
How can you help you ask? It seems cliché; however, it really is important to seek professional help from someone with training and experience with eating disorders. There are school counselors, EAP opportunities, as well as internet searches to find qualified professionals.