This column appears in the Nevada Appeal’s Tuesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
Every day consumers are overwhelmed with images on tabloid covers, television, and social media featuring “amazing” weight loss secrets of celebrities. The beginning of each year brings forth even greater attention to these images of the “perfect body.” On the surface, this all looks glamorous, but what message are these images really sending?
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is Feb. 26-March 4. Many people mistakenly think an eating disorder is a personal choice. However, an eating disorder is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that affects both a person’s emotional and physical health. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Besides medical complications from binge eating, purging, starvation, and over-exercise, suicide is also common among individuals with eating disorders. People who struggle with eating disorders also have a severely impacted quality of life (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org).
It is safe to say everyone knows someone who struggles with some form of an eating disorder. Eating disorders come in all shapes, ages and sexes. Eating disorders have no social or political boundaries, but rather come in many different forms. The three most common categories of disordered eating include:
Anorexia nervosa (anorexia) — Typically the sufferer is underweight or very thin and eats very little food in the attempt to achieve an unrealistic body image. Distorted body image causes them to feel they are heavier than they really are.
Bulimia Nervosa (bulimia) — In this case the sufferer does not have a “typical” body type; they can be overweight, thin, or an average weight. Bulimics will eat large quantities of food (binge) and then use laxatives or make themselves vomit (purge) in an attempt to rid themselves of the excess calories.
Binge Eating Disorder — Many people with this disorder suffer from rapid weight gain. Bingers will consume unusually large amounts of food as a mechanism to cope with stress, depression or anxiety. The very act of bingeing leads to feelings of guilt and sadness, thus fueling a cyclical behavior.
More than 30 million Americans will struggle with a full-blown eating disorder in their lifetime and millions more will battle food and body image issues that have untold negative impacts. Eating disorder sufferers can be very good at hiding their disease, but there are signs you can look for. Obvious signs include: using the restroom frequently or for long periods of time; extreme weight loss; and refusal to eat entire food groups. More subtle signs include: negative body image; working out all the time; cooking/baking for others but not eating the food; feeling cold all the time; swollen cheeks; sudden weight gain; obsessing over food labels; strange food combinations; large amounts of food missing; and more.
Due to old social stereotypes, many people with eating disorders do not get the support they deserve or need. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above symptoms please reach out for help. Visit nationaleatingdisorders.org for additional information or call the hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
There is no single cause of eating disorders, but rather they are caused by complex biological, psychological, and social forces that combine to ignite the onset of an illness. Environmental factors such as physical illnesses, childhood teasing and bullying, and other life stressors increase the risk of developing eating disorders. Additionally, eating disorders commonly occur with other mental health conditions like major depression, anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Furthermore, eating disorders may run in families, as there are biological predispositions that make individuals vulnerable to developing an eating disorder (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org).
Regardless of what causes eating disorders, we can change the social conversation regarding the ideal body by shifting the message from “I want to be thin” to “I want to be strong and healthy.” Let us share stories of people who choose balanced diets and show images of fit, healthy bodies. We can all play our part by setting good examples for others about what a healthy, happy lifestyles looks like.
For more information about services and programs available to you through Carson City Health and Human Services, please visit our website at gethealthycarsoncity.org, follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/cchhs, or call us at 775-887-2190. You can also find us at 900 East Long Street in Carson City.