By Sally Krutzig
Feb. 22 to 28 marks National Eating Disorders Awareness week. This disorder affects 24 million Americans every year, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). College students are particularly at risk. According to the ANAD website, 91 percent of women surveyed on a college campus had dieted because of their weight, and 25 percent of college-aged women binge or purge to control their weight. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate amongst all mental illnesses.
Yet only one in 10 of those affected will receive treatment, says the ANAD. Medical experts believe that raising awareness of this issue could help those suffering from this mental illness seek help.
“First and foremost, it’s important for people to identify that there is an issue, and learning the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and other common mental health issues can help people figure out what the next steps need to look like,” Michelle Holmberg, the director of programs for Screening for Mental Health said in an interview with the Ohio State publication The Lantern. “Doing so should happen after speaking with a qualified mental health professional, and making an individualized plan, person-by-person.”
In a society where posting photos of oneself online has become the norm and the media is obsessed with celebrities’ weight, it is unsurprising that so many develop this disorder.
The best way to lower one’s risk of developing an eating disorder is to prevent it.
The National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) prevention tactics (found on their website) include:
– Rejecting the notion that a certain weight or body type will lead to greater happiness.
– Acknowledge that thinness is not inherently good and weight gain is not inherently bad.
– Stop labeling certain foods as “good” and others as “bad.” Any food can be consumed in moderation.
– Choose to value others for their personality and talents, rather than for their looks and weight.
– Be critical of media coverage and advertisement. Reject or avoid media that portrays a certain body image as the most desirable thing or over-emphasizes the importance of physical appearances.
– Be aware of the way in which you speak about yourself and your body. “Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation,” says the NEDA website.
Should an eating disorder have already developed, one can recognize the following symptoms in either oneself or others, according to the NEDA website:
– Eating too few calories a day, eventually resulting in increasing emaciation.
– Extreme anxiety about weight gain.
– Self-esteem dependent upon body image.
– Recurrent incidents of consuming an extreme amount of food
– Feelings of shame regarding the amount of food eaten.
– Feeling the need to vomit in order to rid oneself of the food one ate.
– Discomfort at eating in front of others.
Friends and family can be the difference between life and death if a loved one has an eating disorder. By showing love and support and encouraging a loved one to seek treatment, one person can lead another toward recovery.
“Any approach needs to be carried out in a caring manner, in an environment that can support open and calm conversation. For example, it can be beneficial to approach the person in an environment where they feel most comfortable and safe, such as at home,” suggests the National Eating Disorder Collaboration website. “Avoid broaching the topic if you are around food or in situations in which either of you are angry, tired or emotional.”
At the University of Dallas, several resources exist to help students who may be struggling with an eating disorder or other mental illness. These include Student Health Services and the Counseling Center, both of which can be reached through emails and phone numbers available on the UD website.