Be Courageous and Talk about Eating Disorders
You're invited to join the recognition of National Eating Disorders Week that begins Sunday, Feb. 26.
Every 62 minutes, someone in the United States dies because of an eating disorder. It’s estimated that approximately 30 million people in the U.S., including 10 million men, will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder some time in their life.
Mary Dressing, LPC-MH, RD, LN, a mental health therapist with Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine Women’s, said that while the conversation with a loved one is not an easy one to start, if you start it, you could save a life.
“I’ve had patients in recovery who have said they wished someone had tried sooner, tried to talk to them about what was wrong,” she said. “They said that if someone had, they would have started on recovery sooner and might have been able to move on with their lives.”
Dressing, who also serves as a registered dietitian, said you can be that difference-maker. You can start by taking the person who may have an eating disorder aside and mentioning that you have noticed changes; that you’re concerned.
“Starting that conversation with a loved one isn’t easy but it can be a start that can save a life,” she said. “You’re showing them you care and that you’re available if they need help. You could be planting the seed that saves a life.”
Another approach is by sharing stories like the one you’re reading now or encouraging people who show the warning signs of a disorder to get more information.
“Sharing a link without comment can be a gentle way to suggest they open up and consider the risks,” Dressing said. “The online assessment is a good tool, and if it helps them to start the process of recovery, you’ll be glad you emailed or PM’ed them the link.”
Some loved ones may bristle at suggestions, but remember: eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses. You can use the warning signs below to guide you on basic knowledge of eating disorders. Dressing said when people who suffer start on their recovery journeys, they will likely need additional help – from counselors, physicians or dietitians – in order to have lasting success.
“Most patients will need a counselor or physician’s guidance to get real recovery and to stay on that track toward better health,” she said. “This week is a time for all of us to remember the severity and the wide-spread nature of eating disorders in our country.”
Most of us might not know the actual clues that point to an eating disorder. Dressing said these are tell-tale signs and important information for all of us:
Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
- Weight at/below 85 percent of ideal weight (for age)
- Significant decrease in normal growth chart curve for weight
- Bradycardia (abnormally slow heart action) and/or orthostatic (low blood pressure) vital sign changes
- Delayed onset of menses or missed menstrual periods
- Fatigue, cold intolerance and dizziness
- Hair thinning or loss, excessive or compulsive exercise
- Sudden interest in healthy eating, vegetarianism, veganism
Warning Signs of Bulimia Nervosa
- Slow heartbeat and low blood pressure
- Electrolyte abnormalities, acid reflux or constipation
- Bingeing or purging more than once a week
- Purging behaviors like self-induced vomiting, use or abuse of laxatives, diet pills or diuretics
- Exercise, chewing and spitting food out or insulin misuse
Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating alone to avoid embarrassment and eating large amounts when not physically hungry
- Feelings of disgust, depression or guilt after eating
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full