Eating disorders aren’t just something that happens to rich teenage girls–which is a dangerous stereotype that keeps being fed to people. Eating disorders happen regardless of sexuality, gender, race, and class–and they kill people every year.
Eating disorders include disorders like body dysmorphia disorder–which is a condition where someone doesn’t perceive themselves and their body image accurately, often feeling as if they are overweight, for instance, even when they are not.
Body dysmorphia is particularly subtle, because many people suffer from it–and while it may not lead to anorexia or bulimia, it can still do a tremendous amount of mental and physical damage. Someone you know, for instance, is likely to suffering from BDD without you even realizing.
Did you know that anorexia nervosa leads to the most deaths out of all mental health disorders? According to a recent article by Michelle Lupkin, a psychologist who specializes in children and teens who suffer from eating disorders, “approximately 50 percent of those deaths attributed to suicide. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have high rates of suicide, self-injury, cardiac-arrest, early-onset osteoporosis, kidney failure and pancreatitis, just to name a few.” This translates to one person dying from an eating disorder every 62 minutes.
As someone who has a had a past with unhealthy eating, particularly as suffering from body dysmorphia since high school (which not unusual, considering about 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.), I can’t stress enough how we all need to be better about educating ourselves on eating disorders, what the signs are, and how to help each other manage our illnesses.
Kids and teens are especially susceptible to developing an eating disorder that could last throughout their lifetimes (especially since we never truly “get over” these disorders, but learn how to manage them, like we learn to manage depression and seek treatment).
Here’s are some facts and tips to keep in mind:
1. Eating disorders can happen to anyone of any age and gender–and can range in severity.
According to Lupkin’s op-ed, “at least 10 percent of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are men and boys, and this number is probably an underestimate, as often boys and men are not screened for eating disorders and tend to under-report symptoms.”
Also, just because someone doesn’t “look” like they have an eating disorder doesn’t mean anything.
2. Eating disorders often are paired with mental health illnesses, like depression and anxiety. They can also be genetic.
This is common sense, if you really think about it. For many, it’s a reaction to a traumatic event (like sexual abuse) and can be a way to control something. As Lupkin said, “treatment must look at the big picture. Without this, as one problem gets fixed, other problems tend to pop up quickly.” Interestingly, like clinical depression and other mental illnesses, eating disorders can be genetic–about 50-80% of the risk is.
3. Eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, are treatable.
Receiving treatment, like going to therapy or rehab, is paramount to being able to working through an eating disorder. When deciding whether you, someone you know, or your child, suffers from an eating disorder, it’s important to see the right health practitioners, since not all are trained to deal with them. Find someone who has a specialty in eating disorders–you can find a list at National Eating Disorders Association and the Academy of Eating Disorders.
It’s important to trust your gut–especially when it comes to your child or teen who may be suffering.
4. Signs and symptoms are not all the same and can manifest themselves differently, depending on the person. Signs include inadequate food consumption leading to weight loss, obsession with weight, obsession with gaining weight, low self-esteem, self-esteem being dictated by body image, depression, anxiety, and frequently consuming a very large amount of food and then engaging in behaviors to prevent weight gain.
If you know someone who may be suffering, help them seek help–and be there for them, even if it just means providing an ear or checking in with them.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.