This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and this year focuses on early detection and prevention. Detection of eating disorders is essential, as according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1 in 4 college students has an eating disorder. Eating disorders are most common among teenagers and young adults, but despite the frequency of these types of diseases, they are very treatable. Do not be afraid to seek help if you or someone you know has an eating disorder.
A common misconception about eating disorders is that every person who has one has an extreme version of that disease. As a society, we picture a person obsessively counting the calories in a single slice of toast, or someone compulsively running to vomit up a meal in the bathroom, but the truth is that these are the symptoms of a disease at an advanced stage. It’s rare that anyone starts at that level, so it’s important to recognize unhealthy habits and attitudes at an early stage so they can be corrected before they begin to do serious harm.
Another difficulty with recognizing eating disorders is that some symptoms of eating disorders bear a close resemblance to a normal person who is merely concerned with their health. For example, it would seem reasonable to say that a person who writes down the caloric and nutritional content of everything they eat has an obsessive problem. The truth is that a so called “food journal” is recommended by many dieticians, as it is common for people to not realize just how much they are eating. To give another example, if a person suddenly becomes very focused on their weight and appearance, it is possible that that person has had a revelation about their eating habits. It’s also possible that that person has developed an unhealthy obsession.
There are some more obvious symptoms, which include skipping meals entirely, hiding of the body with baggy clothing, binge eating, or exercising to the point of injury. Beyond merely recognizing these and other symptoms, students should take this week to reflect and communicate. Students should reflect on themselves, their habits, and their attitudes and decide if they’re truly healthy. For help with this, the website http://mybodyscreening.org/ provides anonymous and confidential screening to help students examine their thoughts and behaviors for signs of eating disorders. After completing the online assessment, students will receive helpful information and treatment options.
Students should also remember to communicate. Many people with eating disorders do not seek help, and suffer in silence as a result. If you suspect that someone you know has a problem, talk to them, it might just be the push they need to get treatment. Remember that eating disorders are preventable and treatable conditions.