February 21-27 is National Eating Disorder Awareness week, and it’s a good time to take stock of how you and the ones around you are doing. Can you identify some of the symptoms of an eating disorder? Have you ever considered if you might have an eating disorder? Eating disorders can affect people from different age groups, walks of life, and even men and boys.
We at Valley Women’s Clinic know that the struggle with body image is real. Many people deal with insecurities about their body, which can sometimes lead to varying degrees of eating disorders. One of our VWC staff members, Heather, shares the story of her own struggle with an eating disorder:
“I had struggled with insecurities about my body for many years, but when I was 14 years old I started to take matters into my own hands. I started to skip meals and when that didn’t work, I cut all my meals in half. By the time I was 15 I had lost even more than my initial goal weight (which was about 40 pounds less than was healthy for my height and body type). I decided I was going to keep going because I didn’t get the satisfaction I was hoping I would when I reached that goal weight.
One day my mother gently shared her concerns that I might be damaging my body. I didn’t want to take her concerns seriously, but shortly after, I found myself reading about anorexia for the first time. I saw myself in so many of the symptoms, but the one that struck me the most was ‘lack of menstruation.’ I hadn’t told anyone, but I had not had a period in almost a year! Just seeing that symptom listed was enough for me to finally begin to recognize that I had a problem.
It did take time for me to work through the unhealthy thinking patterns, but now I have a much healthier body image; I no longer find my identity in a number on a scale, and I want people to know that there is hope for those struggling with eating disorders.”
Check out some information below on two of the most common eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, as well as the some of the symptoms they can cause. We hope this information will help you be more aware of these disorders and when it might be time to get help for yourself or someone in your life who may be struggling with one of them.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
“An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control. Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also signal an eating disorder.”
Anorexia is typically characterized by restricting food intake. This can include skipping meals or eating only very small quantities of food. Bulimia, on the other hand, is typically characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating followed by some method or combination of methods to purge for this behavior, such as forced vomiting, over-exercise, use of laxatives, etc.
The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms:
The National Institute of Mental Health lists these additional symptoms specific to anorexia or bulimia.
Over time, this can lead to:
Eating disorders can be very serious and even life threatening. If you notice some of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, it’s important that you get help. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, a good starting place is to open up to someone you trust about what you have been going through.
If you are concerned about someone in your life, find an appropriate time to gently share your concerns with them in a non-threatening way. Radford University also provides several resources and tips for helping a friend or family member with an eating disorder.
If you’re a student needing help for yourself or a friend, both VT and RU offer help through their student counseling services for those struggling with eating disorders:
Valley Women’s Clinic can provide referrals for local counselors and support. You can contact our Blacksburg or Radford office for more information.