Eating Disorder Awareness Week: How to Find Help

Each year we take some time to call awareness to the ever-present problem of eating disorders. Eating Disorder Awareness Week is all about educating folks on how eating disorders work and providing support for those impacted by eating disorders and their families. This February, take some time to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of common eating disorders and how you can get help if you’re struggling or provide help for a friend dealing with disordered eating. If you’re looking to maintain a higher awareness of eating disorders year-round, you can check out these influencers, folks who have dedicated their social media platforms to eating disorder recovery.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a mental health condition that impacts the way your brain processes emotions surrounding your eating behaviors. Often an eating disorder is accompanied by other mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorders. Eating disorders make it extremely difficult for you to have a healthy relationship with food, often causing you to obsess over every bite, every calorie, every pound, until you’re unable to think about anything other than what you’re eating or your body image or both.

There are 6 eating disorders in the DSM-V, and they each have their own set of symptoms, behaviors and treatments: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, pica, rumination disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Battling an eating disorder can also cause cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal issues, other health conditions related to malnutrition, and even death. It’s estimated that nearly 5% of adolescent females and 8% of all individuals suffer from an eating disorder. While 1 in 3 of every person with an eating disorder is male, men and boys are notoriously under-diagnosed with ED because of stigmas associated with male body image. Thankfully, with treatment and support, recovery is possible, and many people who’ve struggled with an eating disorder live full and healthy lives.

How Do You Know You Have an Eating Disorder?

If any of these signs and symptoms sound familiar to you, consider talking to a healthcare professional and your trusted support network about the possibility that you might have an eating disorder:

  • You significantly restrict the amount of food you eat, usually in order to lose weight.
  • You have an overwhelming fear of gaining weight.
  • You obsess over the number on the scale when you weigh yourself.
  • You obsess about how you look in the mirror, in pictures, or on social media.
  • You restrict your food to the point of malnutrition or loss of energy.
  • You obsessively count or measure your food.
  • You have a rigid, specific routine surrounding food, such as only using specific utensils or eating at certain times.
  • You spend an abnormal amount of time inspecting your food or reading product labels.
  • You eat an abnormally large amount of food in a given time frame.
  • You feel like you have no control over your eating or that you can’t stop.
  • You often eat really quickly, in secret, or alone.
  • You eat until you’re uncomfortably full or when you aren’t hungry.
  • You experience feelings of embarrassment or disgust after eating.
  • You take extreme measures to lose weight after overeating, such as food restriction, excessive exercise, vomiting, using laxatives, etc.
  • You have the irresistible urge to eat or drink things that aren’t food, such as paper, paint, hair, soil, etc.
  • You regurgitate your food into your mouth in order to chew, swallow, or spit it out.

6 Ways to Get Help for an Eating Disorder

If any of the above behaviors sound familiar to you, you’re currently struggling with a relapse of a diagnosed eating disorder, or if the symptoms remind you of a loved one, it’s time to get help! But where does that help come from? Luckily, there are a number of resources available for eating disorder recovery.

1. Share with your support network. Talk to your parents, trusted friends, and/or support staff at your school, church, or workplace. You do not have to handle this alone, and leaning on people who love you can be a crucial part of successful recovery.

2. Make an appointment with a healthcare professional. Eating disorders can lead to serious health problems, so you need to be evaluated in order to know how best to proceed. You might need medications to address either the eating disorder or an issue caused by the ED, and a doctor will be able to recommend a facility if inpatient care is needed.

3. Call, text, or chat online with The National Eating Disorders Association Hotline. This organization has been fighting for decades to prevent ED’s and support those who struggle with them. They’ll be able to work with you, no matter where you are in your recovery journey.

4. Find a professional therapist or counselor who specializes in eating disorder recovery. An eating disorder is a mental health disorder, so while it is important to see a physician to advise you on appropriate medical treatments, you also need someone who can help you work on your mental health.

5. Check out these free ebooks called Starved and Understanding Eating Disorders. Education is key! The more you know, the more aware you can be of how your eating disorder works. It can also help you figure out how to talk about your experience.

6. Chat with a HopeCoach who can help you process your thoughts and connect you with resources that can support you in recovery.

Address the Root of the Problem: Accept Yourself

Research supports the idea that eating disorders often spring from an unhealthy body image or low self-worth. To truly recover from an eating disorder, you need to work on accepting yourself for who you are and recognizing your innate value. Work on learning how the lies you have believed about your body or about food are not the truth.

You have been fearfully and wonderfully made (yes, that includes your body) by a Creator God who wants peace and joy for you. Your body is a gift from someone who cares more about the condition of your heart than about your outward appearance and wants you to treat yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. On top of all that, He understands pain and struggle, so you will never be alone in your recovery journey with God by your side.

Are you facing eating issues? Check out our blog on Finding a Healthy Balance for eating and body image issues. 

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