Today starts National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, NEDA, lasting until 3/2/21.
Eating disorders, eating habits, social media trends, and diet culture are all things that I feel incredibly passionate about. To be upfront, I am entirely biased toward these topics; therefore, there will be two blogs throughout NEDA Week! This post will breakdown eating disorders, while the second post will be more biased.
I considered throwing a third blog in about OCD and eating disorders, considering about ½ of people with an ED struggle with OCD, but a lot of men were very interested in learning about OCD overall. In the next few weeks, I will post a blog about OCD basics before getting into all the details. I think many will be shocked to learn that OCD isn’t only an image of Emma Pillsbury with a toothbrush on Glee.
Just like OCD isn’t an image of someone frantically picking lint from a carpet, an eating disorder isn’t one singular image. Many people have said things like, “he/she is so skinny, there is no way they have an eating disorder or body dysmorphia.” It’s as if most people assume that eating disorders are uncommon – except 9% of Americans experience an ED.
There are two commonly known eating disorders:
Anorexia Nervosa is the most widely recognized ED. This disorder consists of extremely restrictive eating habits, an obsession to maintain an ideal weight, an intense fear of weight gain, and body dysmorphia. Meaning, an anorexic individual typically views their body as something it isn’t – much larger, unhealthy, or endlessly flawed. A common misconception about Anorexia is that the one suffering has to be underweight, but only 6% of people with ED’s are classified as underweight (Eating Disorder Statistics). Plenty of average-sized and plus-sized men and women suffer from Anorexia Nervosa – a disorder that, on average, lasts eight-years.
Bulimia Nervosa, or Binge Eating Disorder, is a commonly known eating disorder, especially portrayed in the media. For example, Blair from Gossip Girl and Hanna from Pretty Little Liars displayed signs of struggling with this ED. Bulimia consists of binge eating habits, purging, an intense fear of weight gain, and body dysmorphia. Like Anorexia, Bulimia has restrictive, unhealthy food habits; however, Bulimia victims tend to struggle with losing control and binge eating. After they binge, they experience aggressive fear and puke/purge to avoid digesting the food. Several people struggle with Bulimia – a disorder that, on average, lasts five-years.
While both of these disorders have typical lengths, many victims tend to struggle with these disorders throughout their lifetime. It is merely impossible for these thoughts or habits to not cross the minds of ED survivors.
Among these two disorders, there are several other eating disorders. Making ED the second deadliest mental illness – following opioid overdoes. According to “Eating Disorder Statistics,” 26% of ED victims attempt suicide, and one ED victim dies every hour. That’s 10,200 deaths in the U.S. from ED (ANAD).
Among the nearly 30 million Americans who struggle with an ED are millions of children under 12. Dr. Kathleen Smith (PSY, 2019) reported that the population of adolescents struggling with ED continues to increase.
As a country, as a society, and as an evolving, improving generation, we must acknowledge mental illness.
Furthermore, we should not only recognize mental illness, but learn about it, teach about it, and do everything in our damn power to help these struggling individuals.
While all mental illnesses are challenging and require support, this blog is aimed at shining light on eating disorders. If you are compelled to learn about what causes ED, detecting symptoms, learning appropriate methods of reaching out, and treatment – I encourage you to keep reading.
Dr. Kathleen Smith published an article (PSY) dedicated to ED in adolescents, revealing that children with family members with an ED are 7-10 times more likely to struggle with an ED. “Eating Disorder Statistics” claimed (ANAD) that 28-74% of individuals with ED had a genetic history of someone/several with ED.
Very Well Mind explains (Environmental Factors, 2021) that psychologists cannot determine all ED causes, but environmental factors are incredibly prevalent. Parental or peer language can cause negative body confidence – like encouraging dieting or weight loss, commenting on how someone should try to alter/thin a part of their body, or comparing one’s body to someone else’s. To avoid talking this way and to diffuse this as a third-party, stop comparing bodies, don’t encourage weight loss (unless openly approved by a doctor), and do not suggest lessening food portions.
In addition to harmful language, media has an impact. Of course, magazines and TV contribute to unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards, but social media is the most prevalent as it is the most consumed media type.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, social media users on Instagram and Facebook tend to develop unhealthy habits and beliefs. The pages and people that these individuals follow start shifting their perception of beauty, health standards, and self-image. Unfortunately, several social media users tend to develop symptoms mirroring Anorexia (Magnolia Creek, 2019).
While I will not get (that) biased in this blog, I will suggest looking up a former model who struggled with ED – @danaemercer on Instagram. She shows how influencers and models angle and edit their bodies, contributing to unachievable expectations for bodies. Additionally, I urge you to avoid Tik Tok trends, like wrapping your headphones around your waist, because that is literally useless and contributes to negative body perceptions.
Several symptoms are tied to eating disorders like hair loss, a halt in hair growth, finger discoloration, fatigue and dizziness, restrictive dietary habits, and signs of depression or anxiety.
Individuals struggling with Anorexia tend to wear baggy clothes, lose coloration in their skin and seem uninterested in life.
Those struggling with Bulimia often binge large amounts, rushing to the bathroom within 30-minutes. They are consumed by fear of weight gain and experience high irritation when struggling.
Approaching Someone With ED
Four doctors collaborated to publish a study on approaching those with an ED (Help Guide, 2020).
The article encourages concerned individuals to pick a private time to discuss any concern and attempt to understand and be gentle – do not accuse. Explain the reasoning for your concern – list specific behavior and even reference statistics. Be ready for denial – they might not even know what they are struggling with. Ask if they are willing to reach out to a hotline or professional.
Finally, be supportive, understanding, and persistent.
Even if the first time doesn’t go well, keep showing them your support and unconditional love. Check-in with them, asking how they are feeling and how their mental health is doing. Ensure that they don’t feel alone and show that you’re available whenever they are ready to reach out. Sadly, eating disorders are common – nearly 1 in 10 have them – do not make them feel alienated.
Remember, these individuals are experiencing the lowest self-esteem, and they may be afraid of rejection or not deserving assistance.
Be patient. Be persistent.
Additionally, the article urges you to not: issue an ultimatum, comment on their weight/appearance (instead focus on their eating habits, moods, emotions, etc.), don’t shame or guilt them, don’t make this struggle about your feelings of sadness/disappointment/hardship (it isn’t about you), don’t accuse them of doing this for attention, and don’t suggest a simple solution – encourage treatment, not “just eating!”
Read this additional article from mental health services, explaining additional do’s and don’ts of reaching out and supporting an individual with an ED.
There is treatment available for those struggling with ED. There are hotlines, licensed professionals, and support groups dedicated to getting those struggling help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone with ED, ask for help if you’re experiencing symptoms, or advocate for ED research.
No cost is too high to get you help.
Eating disorders are very real, and recovery requires support, assistance, and treatment.
If you are an ED survivor or struggle with similar symptoms, health officials in all my resources encourage establishing healthy surroundings. Be aware of who is on your social media feed, set boundaries with negative family/peers, throw away scales, and journal + avoid your triggers.
Remember: your health comes first, regardless of who or what you have to disconnect from.
Please speak out if you are struggling – there are so many of us here for you. We aren’t angry or disappointed; we want to help you feel better.
Please reach out (after doing research) to someone who you fear is struggling. Be patient and be kind.
For my personal feelings and beliefs, come back Monday, 3/1/21 at 7 am for another blog.
If you are looking for help for yourself or someone you know who is struggling with ED symptoms, text NEDA to 741741.
If you are struggling with Anorexia, text 494949.
If you are contemplating suicide, call 800-273-8255 or text LEV to 741741.
If you are looking for additional resources, click here: https://edrcsv.org/about-us/
Resources (linked not properly cited!)
6 Common Types of Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders in 12 and Under
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week
Social Media’s Impact on Eating Disorders
What Not to Say to Someone With an ED