Eating disorders and disordered eating are dangerous behaviors that hurt not only a person’s health, but their self-esteem and self-worth as well. It’s especially heartbreaking when eating disorders manifest at a young age—the overwhelming majority of people who have an eating disorder, more than 90%, are females between ages 12 and 25. That doesn’t mean that males can’t suffer from an eating disorder; in fact, these disorders can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, age, race, or socioeconomic background. That is why eating disorder prevention is critical—if not treated promptly and properly, these disorders can have devastating effects.
There are several types of eating disorders, which each have their own characteristics and symptoms. With bulima nervosa, a person will binge eat uncontrollably and then follow that up with purging, intense exercise, or some other action to counterbalance the excessive eating. Binge eating is like bulima in terms of excessive food consumption, but there is no purging that follows it; this disorder carries a high risk of obesity. Anorexia nervosa is almost the opposite of binging or bulima—instead of eating vast amounts of food, someone with anorexia will hardly eat at all. The goal might be a slender figure, but anorexia often leads to malnourishment, dangerously low weight and damage to the organs. Two lesser-known dysfunctional eating behaviors include rumination disorder (food is regurgitated back into the mouth, without pain, and sometimes without intent) and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (lack of interest in eating for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with weight).
There are signs to look for that could indicate an eating disorder. These include a strict, too-restrictive diet; avoiding meals; constant talk about being too fat; regular use of laxatives; avoiding social activities that may involve food; often eating large quantities of not-as-healthy foods such as sweets; loss of tooth enamel from vomiting; eating secretly or consuming more food at one time than is considered normal.
Eating disorders are dangerous, complex disorders that arise from a variety of issues. One of the best ways to prevent or stop eating disorders in yourself and others is to adopt healthy attitudes and behaviors about body shape and weight. Here are eight tips from the National Eating Disorders Association on how to prevent eating disorders.
8 Eating Disorder Prevention Tips
- Get rid of the notion that a particular diet, weight or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment. You are more than just what your body looks like.
- Learn everything you can about anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other types of eating disorders. Genuine awareness will help you avoid judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape and eating disorders. This will also help you to learn the signs of potential eating disorders so you can spot a problem early and pursue treatment.
- Make the choice to challenge the false ideas that thinness and weight loss are great, and that body fat and weight gain are horrible or indicate laziness, worthlessness or immorality. It may be helpful to enter into therapy or counseling to look at the root of those thoughts and why you have them. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, can be beneficial because it helps to take negative thoughts to reframe them more positively.
- Avoid categorizing foods as “good/safe” vs. “bad/dangerous.” Remember that we all need to eat a balanced variety of foods. A healthy diet should focus on whole foods (such as produce, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and legumes) but allows room to enjoy all kinds of food in moderation.
- Stop judging others and yourself based on body weight or shape. Turn off the voices in your head that tell you that a person’s body weight is an indicator of their character, personality or value as a person. Again, this is another area where therapy can have a positive outcome.
- Become a critical viewer of the media and its messages about self-esteem and body image. While there have been great strides in recent years to have more inclusive representation of various body types in film, TV, ads and other media, there is still a preoccupation with thinness. Don’t accept that the images you see are the ideals you should try to attain. When you hear a comment or see an image that promotes thinness at all costs, talk back to the television. If you see a magazine advertisement or article that makes you feel bad about your body shape or size, rip it out or write to the editor about it. You can also put your money where your beliefs are, and support those businesses, television shows, or recording artists, among others, that promote body positivity for people of all shapes and sizes.
- Choose to value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents and character. Avoid letting the way you feel about your body weight and shape determine the course of your day. Celebrate your body’s unique shape and size and embrace the natural diversity of human bodies. When you do think about your body, don’t focus on how it looks but on what it can do. Be grateful that your body can dance, clean the house, walk up stairs, give birth, and much more.
- Finally, if you think someone has an eating disorder, express your concerns in a forthright, caring manner. Gently but firmly encourage the person to seek trained professional help. If you have an eating disorder, don’t let it control your life any longer. Call an eating disorder rehabilitation center and find out how a residential treatment program can help you regain control over your life.
How to Prevent Eating Disorders for Parents
It definitely pays to be informed about eating disorders in order to spot warning signs and seek out the proper treatment. This is especially true for parents of tweens and teens, who may be at an especially sensitive place for eating disorders as their bodies are changing due to puberty, and may also be facing increased peer pressure to have their figures look a certain way. Here are some eating disorder prevention tips for parents to help instill positive body image in their children and help head off eating disorders before they can take root.
- Be a role model. Children learn a lot from their parents, even when parents don’t realize they’re making a statement. Examine your thoughts, attitudes and behaviors toward your own body. If you’re constantly criticizing yourself or others, dieting or engaging in other similar behaviors, your child will learn to do the same. Set a good example for your child by practicing positive, healthy attitudes and behaviors such as sensible eating, exercise and self-acceptance.
- Educate your child. Once you’ve learned about the dangers of eating disorders, share this information with your child. Discuss with your son or daughter the dangers of trying to change your body shape through extreme dieting or other unhealthy measures, how moderate exercise is valuable for health and the importance of eating well-balanced meals at least three times a day. Again, this is a place where parents can set the tone. These should all be healthy living goals for the entire family to aspire to, not just the kids. Cook and eat dinner together as a family as often as possible, and set aside time for fun physical activities that you can all do together, such as hiking or swimming.
- Mute the media. Children (and adults) are constantly bombarded with images that portray unrealistic ideals, such as the misperception that having a certain body type is the only way to achieve power, popularity and perfection. Help your child understand that these are distorted images and that the human body should be celebrated in all shapes and sizes.
- Don’t make it about weight. Don’t talk about numbers on a sale, but frame discussions about your child’s body in terms of their overall wellness.Place emphasis on exercising for their health rather than on exercising to change their bodies, and talk about how good it feels to participate in activities that they enjoy and that get them moving. This can include team sports, solo activities like riding a bike or even stress relievers such as yoga.
- Build your child’s self-esteem. Encourage your child to participate in athletic, intellectual or social activities that build their self-esteem and self-respect. If your child has a well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem, they will be less likely to turn to dieting and disordered eating to make them feel better.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s vital to get immediate help. Eating disorders are dangerous mental illnesses that rarely get better on their own. It is important to seek treatment at a professional facility with the programs and expertise to address eating disorders. Residential treatment can provide 24/7 care that consists of a variety of therapies performed by an expert team of physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nutritionists and other specialists. These therapies will help you achieve goals that include normal eating behavior, coping skills for stress management, personal confidence, understanding the root cause of your disorder, appropriate views of body image, improved relationship skills, treatment for co-occurring disorders, and relapse prevention and aftercare plans. You’ll also receive nutritional support and counseling to learn how to better take care of yourself in the recovery process and develop a healthy relationship with food and your body. Holistic treatments such as yoga, meditation, touch therapy, biofeedback and spiritual guidance may also be included to treat not only your body, but your mind and spirit as well.
If you or someone you love has an eating disorder, stop the suffering now. Contact Casa Palmera and start the healing journey today.