This week marks National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. That’s what the presentation I mentioned in my last blog post is for actually (well the RD’s role at least). So I’m still stressing about my presentation, but I also believe that it’s important to promote education about and awareness of eating disorders since they can be such devastating diseases, so below are a couple of eating disorder facts and tips. If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, now is a better time than ever to reach out for support.
Eating Disorder Fact #1: The peak onset of eating disorders occurs during puberty and the late teen/early adult years, but symptoms can occur as early as kindergarten.
Why? Partially because puberty is a difficult time, especially for girls. It’s normal for girls to gain a significant amount of weight in a fairly short period of time as their bodies mature and this can be extremely uncomfortable both physically and emotionally. How do we help young girls deal with this? First by normalizing the experience. Sometimes just validating that, yes, puberty and becoming a woman is awkward and it’s normal to feel uncomfortable in your own skin, is helpful. Also, modeling normal eating and promoting self-love and body acceptance. If a mother is constantly dieting or complaining about her body that can send negative messages to her daughter about physical beauty and worthiness. Mothers need to practice what they preach and focus on health, balanced eating and exercise, and taking care of and loving (or at least accepting) ones body regardless of it’s size.
The late teen and early adult years are often a time of transition. Many people are leaving home, going off to college, or living on their own for the first time and this can be stressful. Eating disorders are often a way to cope with stress or deal with an otherwise tumultuous time in life. Some college students even struggle with the concept of feeding themselves and cooking on their own if they’ve never had to do so before. What to do? Encourage teens to take an active part in preparing meals at home so they have the skills they need to cook for themselves when they are on their own.
If you notice a child or adolescent seems overly preoccupied with food or weight don’t be afraid to ask them how they are feeling. They may be wanting someone to notice!
Eating Disorder Fact #2: An eating disorder can develop at any age.
While the late teens/early 20s may be the peak onset time, don’t think that someone is in the clear because they are middle age. An eating disorder can develop at any age and stage in life. I’ve seen women with eating disorders in their 60s and even 80s. Major life changes such as a divorce or death may onset an eating disorder, so be especially careful to seek support during these difficult times. Dieting can also be a trigger for someone susceptible to developing an eating disorder. Please don’t diet! If you need to lose weight for health reasons do so slowly by eating a balanced diet full of whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean meats, fish, dairy, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats etc and by exercising moderately. Don’t deny yourself the occasional treat and don’t force yourself to log hours a day at the gym. That’s not sustainable for most people anyway. Find activities you enjoy and can do with friends and families. Make exercise enjoyable, not a chore.