Let’s get real – eating disorders can affect anyone, anywhere. This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and we’re working on changing the conversation around food, body image, and eating disorders! This year’s theme is “Let’s Get Real.” The goal is to promote more conversation about the reality of eating disorders and the impact this illness has on more than 30 million people in the U.S. alone.
As a dietitian who has worked in this field for over a decade, it continues to amaze me that in our “wellness-focused” culture, we remain fixated on certain measures (weight, BMI, clothing size), one’s appearance (“lean”, “fit”, anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, etc.) or whether you eat the “right” foods (as defined by a celebrity, Dr. Oz, or what’s trending on social media) to define health and wellness. Sadly, for many people, what’s going on “under the hood” is far beyond well. What’s even more frightening to me is the number of young people and children that are falling victim to disordered eating and eating disorders. Perhaps growing up in a small town in Nebraska sheltered me a bit, but I don’t recall such a fixation on food, eating and weight as what we are experiencing today.
Take a moment to consider the following facts:
- At least 30 million individuals of all ages and genders in the United States are diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives
- The majority of these individuals do not seek treatment because they feel embarrassed, are in denial, do not have the financial means or social support, or simply do not know where to start
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder
- Approx. 30% of individuals who engage in binge and purge behaviors also engage in self-harm behaviors such as cutting
- Approx. every 60 seconds, an individual dies as a direct result of an eating disorder
- 13% of women over the age of 50 engage in some sort of eating disorder behavior
- Approx. 10% of female college students suffer from a clinical eating disorder
- Only one in 10 individuals with an eating disorder will receive treatment
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
- Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States
- Approx. 50% of the risk for binge eating disorder is genetic
What about women over age 50? At a time in a woman’s life when we deserve to be happiest and most fulfilled, age doesn’t seem to make us immune to the reality of disordered eating, eating disorders and negative body image.
In a survey of 1,849 women, ages 50 and over, 71% of women responded that they were currently trying to lose weight! More than 3/4 of the women responded that weight or shape plays a “moderate” to “the most important” role in their self-perception (so more important than being a great mom or honest and hard-working woman?) AND more than half (62%) responded that weight or shape negatively affected their lives.
Eating disorders do not discriminate. Men of all ages are also affected!
What Can We Do?
Examine AND CHALLENGE mixed messages about what is “healthy” vs achieving a “certain size or look.” For example, does it really make sense to cut out fruit, legumes, and whole grains (as dictated by some popular diet trends)? You can read my thoughts about some of this “science” and diet trends HERE.
Respect EveryBODY. We all have a unique size and shape that doesn’t fit perfectly in the middle of the “BMI curve”. Yes, it’s important to encourage “health-promoting” behaviors, such as regular activity, eating a balanced diet, good sleep habits, not smoking, etc, but remember – you really can’t tell if someone is healthy by looking at them. Think of it this way. Should every dog strive to look like a poodle? Take a look at this “Poodle Science” video.
Prevent these behaviors or offer support. If you are a Parent, Teacher, Coach, Trainer, Health Provider, Educator, or Friend, get educated about disordered eating and eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association has some fabulous resources and tool kits to help prevent this illness or offer appropriate support.
Seek out appropriate help. If you or someone you know is struggling, work with a licensed professional who specializes in eating disorders. It’s painful to me when I learn about someone who is suffering from any type of eating disorder who is being treated by a health coach, personal trainer or “nutritionist”. Please forgive me for being so blunt – but would you take your child to a health coach or chiropractor if he or she had cancer? Many of these folks do a fabulous job at what they are trained to do. However, it’s unlikely they have been trained to work specifically with a diagnosed, or even un-diagnosed condition of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, AFRID, or orthorexia. In the Atlanta area, providers who specialize in eating disorder treatment is available HERE.
Image source: http://www.beautyredefined.net