Thursday, December 17, 2009

Eating Disorders: Risks, Facts, and Resources That Can Help

Recently Oriana shared some information with us about eating disorders. Today I want to share some sobering facts about eating disorders that might surprise you, and show you some great online resources that can provide insight, information, and support if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder.

One important thing to remember is that someone with an eating disorder may not fit the textbook definitions of Anorexia or Bulimia. In fact, many people struggling with food and body image issues are diagnosed as having an "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified." Many people with this diagnosis are binge eaters; however, the category also includes people who struggle with restricting, bingeing, weight loss, or purging, but not at levels severe enough to be diagnosed as anorexic or bulimic.


Eating disorders do not just affect your mental health, they can ravage a person's physical health as well. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest premature fatality rate of any other mental illness. According to Focus Adolescent services as many as one in ten cases of serious anorexia nervosa leads to death from starvation, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, other medical complications, or suicide. Other health risks resulting from eating disorders can include hormonal imbalance, low blood pressure, cardiac dysfunctions, fluid retention, dehydration, and damage to vital organs. People struggling with eating disorders are also often at risk of developing severe depression.

Please, if you or someone you know needs help with a disordered eating issue, know that you are not alone in your struggles (10 million women and 1 million men in the United States live with an eating disorder.) You can find help. Here are some places to start...

ANAD is the National Association of Anoreixa and Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Oriana mentioned them in her post, but it bears repeating. They are an excellent resource, with lots of support groups.

Academy for Eating Disorders is an international organization that promotes research, treatment, and prevention of eating disorders.

Pale Reflections is a wonderful online support community for people with eating disorders who are working to reclaim control of their lives.

The National Institute of Mental Health offers a wonderful array of free booklets on a variety of mental illness, including eating disorders. You can download them or order a hard copy to be mailed to you.

F.E.A.S.T. Families and loved ones of eating disordered youth and adults also suffer from the effects of
the eating disorder. "They see their child or family member behaving in destructive ways and feel helpless and frustrated. They may try to gain control over what she eats, policing washrooms and searching drawers for diet pills or laxatives. The eating disorder takes over and dominates family life." (here) It can be painful to watch someone you love become a stranger in the face of an eating disorder (as illustrated by this submission to postsecret.)

That is why I am so thrilled that an organization like F.E.A.S.T.(Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders) is available for them. They are "an
organization of and for parents and caregivers to help loved ones recover from eating disorders by providing information and mutual support, promoting evidence-based treatment, and advocating for research and education to reduce the suffering associated with eating disorders. "

As the holidays grow close, a time when food is often central to family gatherings and community activities, please know that if you are struggling with eating and food issues help is available. You are not alone. Reach out, speak up, seek help. Share your story and you will find that there is a whole community of people like you ready to offer you support and guidance.

I hope you all have a healthy holiday season,

-Jessica

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