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  • Dr. Crystal Sparling

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

February 22nd through the 28th is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so we will be sharing information on the broad symptoms, causes and long-term repercussions of these scary diseases. Often society can be dismissive to the signs of an eating disorder, but it is important to be keenly aware of how prevalent these diseases have become. No one is immune to eating disorders, although some groups have higher likelihood of being susceptible. Below we will cover common misconceptions, those groups at higher risk, warning signs, and long-term effects on health.


Are people with eating disorders always thin?


Up to 40% of overweight girls and 37% of overweight boys are teased about their weight by peers or family members. Weight teasing predicts weight gain, binge eating, and extreme weight control measures.


Weight-based victimization among overweight youths has been linked to lower levels of physical activity, negative attitudes about sports, and lower participation in physical activity among overweight students. Among overweight and obese adults, those who experience weight-based stigmatization engage in more frequent binge eating, are at increased risk for eating disorder symptoms, and are more likely to have a diagnosis of binge eating disorder.


Who is most likely to have an eating disorder?


Eating disorders have historically been associated to young, white, heterosexual females, but evidence shows that everyone is susceptible to unhealthy eating disorders. However, there are groups that show a greater likeliness to develop risky eating patterns. Athletes, people with disabilities, Jewish, LGBTQ+ and people of color are known groups to be at risk to suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. Identity and eating disorders are strongly linked psychologically as youth decipher the hard truths of discovering who they are. Understanding that eating disorders do not discriminate is key to providing everyone with support and a diagnosis.


What are the warning signs of an eating disorder?


Parents and family members are often the first to identify when their loved one is struggling with an eating disorder. Limiting or refusing food, eating past fullness, increased anxiety or comments about body image, changes in mood and excessive exercise are all causes for concern. If you are observing disordered behaviors and your child is adopting a defensive stance when you bring up those concerns, your child may be dealing with an eating disorder.


If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, this short, confidential screening tool can help determine if it is time to seek professional help.


What can I do to create body positivity for my child?


Confident Body, Confident Child (CBCC) is an evidence based resource that aims to guide parents in best practices to create an environment for a child to develop healthy eating patterns and body satisfaction for children ages 2 to 6 years old. Even though it was developed for early childhood, it is also valuable to reinforce these strategies with older children, too. A team of researchers compiled the leading existing data into practical strategies that the whole family could use including workshops and fun activities for all ages.


The Body Project is a group-based intervention that provides a forum for high school girls and college aged women to confront unrealistic appearance ideals and develop healthy body image and self-esteem. It has repeatedly been shown to effectively reduce body dissatisfaction, negative mood, unhealthy dieting and disordered eating. Your child’s school may already offer a similar program and paired with focused body positivity in the home are excellent foundations toward a healthy outlook about weight.


Both of these options are prevention programs, so if you are in a situation with an active eating disorder, you should contact us to discuss treatment plans and how to best approach your child.


What are the health risks of an eating disorder?

Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction. The list of physical consequences is long including cardiovascular compromise, malnutrition, stunted growth and high rate of fractures. Eating disorders are serious conditions that can have a profound mental and physical impact, including death. This should not discourage anyone struggling—recovery is real, and treatment is available. Statistics on mortality and eating disorders underscore the impact of these disorders and the importance of treatment. If you are concerned about your child’s eating patterns, schedule an appointment with us to discuss your situation and options for treatment.


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