It’s Time For Change: It's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

It has been more than 30 years since the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) launched this week-long initiative to shine a spotlight on the needs of people with eating disorders. To give some context into the importance of this issue, nearly twenty-eight million Americans will develop eating disorders (EDs) at some point in their lives, and EDs (especially anorexia) are known to be the second most fatal mental illness surpassed only by opioid abuse. While all instances of disordered eating behavior will not result in a fatality, those who live with unhelpful food obsessions and restrictive or binging tendencies all deserve support and may even require outpatient eating disorder therapy.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week will occur this year from February 27 – March 5. The week is devoted to challenging misconceptions, distributing resources for those who need disordered eating support and their loved ones, providing educational materials, raising awareness, and inspiring advocacy.

In addition, the ED recovery community is encouraged to share their personal stories to help reduce stigma and give hope to others. In light of their effort, let’s look at some of the lesser-known signs of eating disorders, so you’ll be able to spot them in yourself or those you care about.

Understanding Disordered Eating’s Less Common Symptoms

Overeating, purging, refusing to eat, gaining or losing excessive weight, or a distorted body image are commonly recognized symptoms of eating disorders; however, other symptoms, while less frequently recognized, can sometimes accompany these disorders. The following is a list of signs and symptoms of eating disorders that you might not know about but should also watch out for:

Chronic insomnia

Sleep disturbances are likely to occur in people who do not eat because our bodies use certain fatty acids and nutrients to make sleep-promoting hormones. For example, insufficient tryptophan, a vital amino acid, affects the body’s ability to sleep fully.

Ruining food intentionally

Some people may over-salt, over-sweeten, or add too much spice to make it difficult to continue eating.

Stomach and throat issues

Non-specific digestive problems may come up all the time, such as constipation, acid reflux, stomach cramps, or irregular periods.

Social isolation

It is common for outgoing people to become reserved—consistently canceling plans or not engaging in food-based social situations as often as they used to.

Hydrating too much or too little

Excessive water consumption might be intended to “cleanse” the body or fill up without eating. Alternatively, not drinking at all may be an attempt to avoid bloating or as self-punishment.

Dietary regimens that are unusually rigid

Individuals who may benefit from disordered eating support are typically meticulous about their eating routines, such as the time they eat, the bowls, plates, or utensils they use, the food they eat (including bringing their food to someone else’s house or restaurant), even refusing to eat if any of these items are missing.

How to Start Conversations around Body Image, Food, and the Body Positive Movement

The most effective way to start a conversation around body image with a loved one, a friend, or even yourself is to do what you can to ensure your own comfort discussing food, weight, body image, and mental health topics. If you feel centered and at peace with your own body, attempt to approach the conversation as naturally as possible. We recommend meeting in a relaxed and non-threatening environment so the conversation can mimic that tone. Discussing the need for disordered eating support or outpatient eating disorder therapy is often an extremely personal, tense, challenging, and sensitive topic.

Talking with teens about disordered eating & body image

Having this conversation—especially with young people already experiencing changes in their bodies and potentially battling body image issues—can be incredibly difficult. No matter how much time and energy you put into discussing body image with teens, teens may still have trouble finding peace with their body, especially when changing quickly. This is not a reflection on your abilities; eating disorders are mental health problems that often require professional help.

Dos and don’ts for promoting a positive self-image:

  • Don’t be afraid to let them know you worry about them. If possible, mention specific times when you felt concerned
  • Express your feelings using “I” statements
  • Ask how you can help support them
  • Spend more time listening than talking
  • Don’t pressure the person for a response right away. Let them process what you said before responding
  • Don’t try to diagnose them or put labels on their behaviors
  • Make sure to ask how you can help them with the support they need
  • Keep them focused on who they are, not what they look like, and reinforce their strengths and abilities
  • Keep hope alive. With the right tools, skills, and support, recovery is possible at any age.

Outpatient Eating Disorder Therapy at PURE Health Center

If you or a loved one are thinking about professional disordered eating support or an outpatient eating disorder therapy program, contact Pure Health Center today to get started on the road to recovery. In addition to offering individual therapy, child and family counseling, and teen counseling, some of our areas of expertise include eating disorders, self-esteem, stress management, depression, and life transitions.

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