18 May 2018

Eating Disorders Are a Mental Health Condition and Can Be Fatal

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Karen Carpenter (1950-1983) was an American drummer and singer in the 1970s. She died after losing a long battle with anorexia nervosa, one of the most commonly known eating disorders. Since that time, there have been great advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.

Many people believe that an eating disorder is when a person, usually a young girl, just won’t eat enough food. Perhaps that person exercises excessively (often losing a drastic amount of weight in a short period of time), or eats too much food and then vomits on purpose. Eating disorders, however, do affect more than just young girls, and include a wide variety of food and eating issues. In fact, millions of Americans suffer from eating disorders – and anyone can be affected. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).
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Eating disorders are mental health conditions according to The American Psychiatric Association.

Eating disorder categories include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder
  • Pica
  • Rumination Disorder
For people who may be struggling with an eating disorder, and for their friends and families, it can be difficult to know how to recognize when there’s a problem. A person suffering from an eating disorder may display one or many signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, but it’s important to remember that you cannot tell just from a person’s appearance whether or not they have an eating disorder. 
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Some signs and behaviors of an eating disorder:

  • A preoccupation with weight, exercise and/or calories
  • Chronic dieting with or without weight loss
  • Drastic weight loss or gain
  • Significant decrease or increase in food intake
  • Concerned with feeling fat, even if underweight
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide body shape
  • Fear of not being able to control eating
  • Refusing to eat with the family or in social situations
  • Hiding food, eating in private
  • Denying a food-or eating-problem is present, despite concerns of friends or family
  • Eating large amounts of food, followed by trips to the bathroom, sometimes running water to hide the sound of vomiting
  • Bruised or callused knuckles, bloodshot eyes, dark color under eyes
  • Restrictive eating
  • Compulsive eating and/or exercise
  • Abusing diet pills and/or laxatives
  • Hair loss, sunken eyes, pale skin
  • Medical complications like loss of menstrual cycle, electrolyte imbalances, low body temperature, low blood pressure

All forms of eating disorders can lead to severe medical complications and even death, so it is critical that anyone who is showing signs and/or symptoms of an eating disorder get professional help. Getting treatment for an eating disorder in the early stages provides the best chance for a full recovery. For ideas about how to talk to someone about eating disorder concerns, watch this video from the National Eating Disorders Association: https://youtu.be/fX1CFDtdgbY

If you or someone you care about is affected by an eating disorder, get help:

The Emily Program (Located in Lacey, WA) 1-888-EMILY-77 (1-888-364-5977) www.emilyprogram.com
For more information about eating disorders go to: http://www.anad.org/ and https://nationaleatingdisorders.org
Dr. Rachel Wood is Thurston County’s Public Health and Social Services Health Officer.
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