We like to tell ourselves that we know what an eating disorder looks like. Someone who is “all skin and bones” or someone who suspiciously disappears to the bathroom after every meal. These are often exaggerated clichés that people think of when they think about eating disorders, but the reality of these conditions is often much subtler.
This month ends with Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and to help keep our community well educated on these disorders, New Braunfels ER wants to talk about the symptoms of them. While there are several kinds of eating disorders, many of them share some common symptoms and warning signs. Knowing how to spot these and how to talk with someone who might be suffering from an eating disorder are vital in making sure they get the help they need.
What Eating Disorders Look Like
Eating disorders can vary in how they develop, so being able to spot the signs of one can be a bit difficult. People in all shapes and sizes can suffer from eating disorders,; it is not exclusive to people who are extremely skinny or extremely overweight. Believing that certain people can or cannot have eating disorders is often a thought process that prevents patients who are suffering from finding the help they need. So, when you are considering if someone you love has an eating disorder, then you should disregard their shape or weight, as these factors are irrelevant in a diagnosis.
The signs of an eating disorder are linked more closely with unhealthy relationships to food and a need for control. Here are signs that might indicate someone is suffering from an eating disorder, or is at risk to develop one:
- Dramatic weight fluctuations without direct cause
- Preoccupation with food, such as constantly counting calories, fat grams, or a fixation on diets
- Refusal to eat certain foods or entire groups of food without a reason (i.e. if someone refuses to eat all meat, but is not a vegetarian or vegan, or if someone stops eating something they previously enjoyed for no reason)
- Frequent comments about weight in themselves or others, including feelings of dissatisfaction in their own weight
- Digestive problems
- Hesitation or refusal to eat in public
- Frequent exhaustion, illness, or feeling cold
- Intense fears concerning their weight changing
- Denies feeling hungry or frequently foregoing meals
- Restrained initiative or emotional expression as well as a lack of spontaneity with friends and family
- Obsession with exercise, including spending extremely long hours working out or a fixation on “burning off” any calories eaten that day
- Rituals surrounding eating (i.e. constantly playing with their food, eating only certain things off their plate, excessive chewing, and so forth) which did not exist before
Given that eating disorders are mental and emotional conditions, sometimes it might seem like someone isn’t suffering from an eating disorder when they are. Other times, it might seem like someone is developing a disorder, but they aren’t. This is why communication about food and eating disorders is so important for families and friends.
If you think that someone in your life might be suffering from an eating disorder, or might be at risk for one, then approach them and talk to them honestly about your concerns. It may not be easy to get someone to open up if they have an eating disorder, but talking to them about it might help you to determine if they are at risk as well as give them a safe space to confide in you if they know they need help.
How to Prevent Eating Disorders
Like many mental disorders, conditions like anorexia or bulimia are not something that can be ‘cured.’ Eating disorders are complex conditions, and the best way to help combat them is with an increased awareness and supporting healthy relationships with body image and food in your home. For parents, this can be especially important, because making sure your children grow up with a healthy self-image can go a long way to equipping them against eating disorders later in life.
Here are some ways that you can help to promote positive body image and food relationships in your home:
- Encourage self-care in yourself and those around you, like maintaining good hygiene, giving yourself relaxation time, and other small day-to-day things to take care of your body and your mind.
- Compliment yourself and those you care about often (this is especially important for kids and teens, as their developing minds and growing emotional depth can make them more likely to feel self-conscious)
- Express pride in yourself and those you care about for things that they accomplish or do throughout the day or week
- Avoid criticizing or commenting negatively about your appearance or someone else’s, especially in front of children
- Encourage healthy, full meals with your family as well as encouraging group activities like going on walks or playing backyard games to encourage positive experiences with exercise
- Talk to children and teens about how they feel with their own self-image, and encourage them to try new styles or choices if they want to
- Encourage de-stressing time in your home to help lower anxiety and take care of yourself in a healthy way
One of the keys to limiting the risk of eating disorders is to engage in self-love. For parents, this is especially important, as your children will naturally look to you for examples on how they should behave. If a little girl grows up seeing her mother constantly talk about ‘losing weight’ or sees her criticize the health and style choices of others, she is much more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with her body image. Similarly, if a little boy grows up watching his father obsess over exercise or weight loss, then he will be at a higher risk to develop eating disorders as well but fixating on his size.
Leading by example isn’t just better for kids, though. Everyone feels self-conscious about certain things, and it is normal to have some self-esteem problems throughout your life. But being able to engage in active self-love can help you to come to terms with yourself and learn how to love your own body. Try looking in the mirror at yourself and saying out loud the things you like about your body. Tell your reflection that the things about your body that you’re insecure about are beautiful as well.
While these methods can feel cheesy and silly to some people, they often help people to feel more at ease in their own skin. When you feel better about yourself and can promote that kind of positivity in yourself, it makes it easier for friends or family members who might be struggling to feel better too.
In the event that someone you love is experiencing an eating disorder, whether it is just the beginnings of one or a severe condition, encourage them to get help. Eating disorders require long-term treatment to heal from and supporting your loved one as they find a therapist who works for them and begin long-term treatment is vital to their success.
Health conditions like these, with both physical and mental symptoms and effects, are complex, and hard for many people to understand. Eating disorders can vary in how they manifest and how far someone might take them, but no matter what, it is intervention and treatment is possible. By encouraging positive body images in yourself and your family, you can help to prevent eating disorders as well as offer healthy support for any loved ones who might be suffering from them.
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