Thirty million people- men and women of all different background, ages and sizes- will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their life. The National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) group reported a “disorder can include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues” Of those men and women, only 35% of people receive treatment with appropriate care.

A rise in social media has made the situation only worse which may trigger poor body images.  Currently, 57% of adolescent girls from the ages of 9-11 experiment with crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills or laxatives.

National Eating Disorders awareness week is February 26 – March 4 to stress the importance of identifying and preventing eating disorders early.

Some early warning signs of eating disorders such as anorexia include:

  • Sudden dramatic weight loss
  • Preoccupation with food, nutrition, dieting, counting calories, etc.
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, such as carbs or fats or fad dieting
  • Avoiding mealtimes, going to restaurants or eating in front of others
  • Preparing elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat them
  • Making comments about looking “fat” when they are thin
  • Stopping menstruation
  • Complaining about constipation , stomach pain, or feeling full quickly
  • Denying that extreme thinness is a problem
  • Feeling cold all the time and more mood swings

The following are common signs of bulimia:

  • Evidence of binge eating, such as finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Evidence of purging, including trips to the bathroom after meals, sounds or smells of vomiting, or packages of laxatives or diuretics
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others, or eating very small portions
  • Exercising excessively
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide the body
  • Using gum, mouthwash, or mints excessively
  • Scarred knuckles from repeatedly inducing vomiting

Common signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time, or finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Hoarding food, or hiding large quantities of food in strange places
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others
  • Constantly dieting, but rarely losing weight

As parents and role models, there are some things you can do to try to prevent an unhealthy approach to food and weight.  With today’s society so focused on dieting and weight loss it can be hard to raise normal eaters.  You can start by teaching children that their self-worth is not related to how they look. Focus on talents and abilities vs physical appearance.  Also, try to provide healthy choices and teach them to make informed decisions about what they eat.  Involve them in meal planning, shopping and cooking.  Emphasize the positive aspects of healthy eating, rather than focusing on the effects of unhealthy eating.

Encourage children to take responsibility for their own well-being.  You can try to remind them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full to develop intuitive eaters.  Respect their choices and try not to make them finish their plate if they are full or do not limit their food when they are hungry.

Make family meals a peaceful time for enjoying food and talking with each other.  Research shows how important having meals as a family really are, without distractions.

Live with positive attitudes to body image without putting focus on food and weight yourself.  Avoid complaining about your body size in front of your children or talking about diets and weight.   Also be aware of advertising and toys aimed at children body dissatisfaction.  This is often seen with today technology.  Avoid any type of discrimination towards different body types or sizes with the use of works like “fat” or “chubby”.

Recovering from an eating disorder is possible with the right support and resources.  Be sure to help those before it is too late by identifying those at risk as well as preventing eating disorders with some of the suggestions above.   Early intervention can significantly reduce the risk of certain behaviors developing into full-blown eating disorders, NEDA reports.

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