At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the United States, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Healthcare providers receive very little training in the identification and treatment of eating disorders. As a result, they are often overlooked and under-diagnosed until substantial physical and psychological complications develop.
To further complicate matters, we live in diet culture. Our society places high value on being a certain size, weight, or shape rather than on actual health. Diet culture promotes the false notion that health equals thinness. It praises weight loss and rigid, restrictive (aka disordered) eating patterns as tools for health despite clear research that diets do not lead to sustainable health or weight loss. The result? Normalization of disordered eating patterns.
Dieting is a major predictor of future eating disorders. When it comes to recognizing the potential signs, don’t be deceived by diet culture. Knowing these facts about eating disorders could prevent them and ultimately save lives…
- People with strict diets are often praised for their willpower, their discipline, or for being “good,” but a person’s rigid or scrupulous eating pattern may actually be the beginning of an eating disorder.
- Most people with an eating disorder are not underweight. A person’s physical appearance is not an indicator of whether or not they have an eating disorder.
- People with eating disorders don’t always lose weight as a result of their disorder. Some people gain weight as a result of an eating disorder.
- Weight cycling, which often results from going on and off various diets, could be an eating disorder in disguise.
- Negative body image is common for individuals with eating disorders, but it is not universal.
- Though amenorrhea (the absence of one or more periods) may be common, especially in female athletes, it is not normal and should be addressed by a physician to prevent further medical complications. Screening for an underlying eating disorder is also necessary.
- A low heart rate is often linked to and dismissed as athletic training and ability; however, a deeper look into the presence of other eating disorder signs and symptoms is often warranted.
How You Can Help
(1) Know the warning signs. For more information on specific emotional, behavioral, and physical signs and symptoms of eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorder Association’s website: Nationaleatingdisorders.org.
(2) If you suspect a friend or loved one is struggling, express your concern without blame or criticism, but with sensitivity and compassion. Since accurate self-awareness is often absent and fears about seeking treatment can be high, do not be surprised if your loved one does not recognize their behaviors as a problem or the severity of their situation. Encourage the individual to seek help and begin treatment as soon as possible. Early intervention is associated with higher recovery rates.
(3) Ditch Diet Culture. In doing so, you’ll likely improve your own sense of wellbeing and, in turn, help prevent eating disorders. A few ideas to get you started: Derail diet-related conversations. Don’t comment on people’s bodies, even if you think you’re giving them a compliment. Detox from diet-related social media and dig into accounts promoting body acceptance.
Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN is co-owner of Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition & lifestyle counseling practice operated by registered & licensed dietitians/nutritionists. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit www.MemphisNutritionGroup.com.