*National Eating Disorders Awareness Week provides an opportunity to draw attention to one of the most serious mental health conditions impacting the lives of Americans and their families today. Eating disorders—including binge-eating, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa—affect people of all backgrounds and genders. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans are expected to develop an eating disorder in their lifetime. In recent years, there has been a troubling surge in eating disorders among children, older adults, military service members, and transgender individuals. When undiagnosed or untreated, eating disorders can have serious—even fatal—consequences, which is why improving mental health services and support is so important.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for individuals with eating disorders. National eating disorder hotlines have seen a more than 70 percent spike in the volume of calls and chats since the pandemic started. Research shows that the number of hospitalizations for eating disorders has doubled during that same time period.
Despite the fact that eating disorders have among the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, the shame and stigmatization of eating disorders often prevent people who are suffering from seeking help. That is why it is important to make more people aware that, with early detection and medical intervention, full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.
Advice for Parents:
- Open up lines of communication. To help prevent eating disorders, talk to your teen about eating habits and body image. It might not be easy, but it’s important.
- Encourage reasonable eating habits. Talk to your teen about how diet can affect his or her health, appearance, and energy level. Encourage your teen to eat when he or she is hungry. Make a habit of eating together as a family.
- Discuss media messages. Television programs, movies, websites, and other media might send your teen the message that only a certain body type is acceptable. Encourage your teen to talk about and question what he or she has seen or heard — especially from websites or other sources that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than an eating disorder.
- Promote a healthy body image. Talk to your teen about his or her self-image and offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary. Don’t allow hurtful nicknames or jokes based on a person’s physical characteristics. Avoid making comments about another person based on his or her weight or body shape.
- Foster self-esteem. Respect your teen’s accomplishments, and support his or her goals. Listen when your teen speaks. Look for positive qualities in your teen, such as curiosity, generosity, and a sense of humor. Remind your teen that your love and acceptance is unconditional — not based on his or her weight or appearance.
- Share the dangers of dieting and emotional eating. Explain that dieting can compromise your teen’s nutrition, growth, and health, as well as lead to binge-eating. Remind your teen that eating or controlling his or her diet isn’t a healthy way to cope with emotions. Instead, encourage your teen to talk to loved ones, friends, or a counselor about problems he or she might be facing.
- Use food for nourishment — not as a reward or consequence. Resist the temptation to offer food as a bribe. Similarly, don’t take away food as a punishment.
- Set a good example yourself. If you’re constantly dieting, using food to cope with your emotions or talking about losing weight, you might have a hard time encouraging your teen to eat a healthy diet or feel satisfied with his or her appearance. Instead, make conscious choices about your lifestyle and take pride in your body.
- Team up with your teen’s doctor. Your teen’s doctor can reinforce the messages you’re giving your teen at home, as well as help identify early signs of an eating disorder. For example, the doctor can look for unusual changes in your teen’s body mass index or weight percentiles during routine medical appointments. The doctor can talk to your teen about his or her eating habits, exercise routine, and body image. If necessary, he or she will refer your teen to a mental health provider.
Warning Signs of Teen Eating Disorders
Early Signs & Symptoms
- Distorted body image
- Poor eating patterns
- Frequent Weighing
- Extreme weight change
- Dizziness & weakness
- Fatigue & insomnia
- Hyperactivity & obsession with exercise
- Withdrawn, irritable, anxious
- Difficulty concentrating
- Skin rash or dry skin & loss of hair or nail quality
- In girls, menstrual irregularities
Later Life-Threatening Consequences
- Muscle wasting
- Thinning hair
- Bone loss
- Tooth decay
- Delayed growth and development
- Digestive problems
National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673
Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741
Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your school counselor:
Jennifer Barba (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Artia Thomas( email@example.com)
Monique Aldrete (firstname.lastname@example.org)
*Taken from the FederalRegister.Gov and the National Eating Disorders Association