It's estimated that eating disorders affect around ten million Americans over the course of their lifetime, yet there is still so much that is misunderstood or simply not known about them. For many who suffer with these disorders, the guilt and shame that come with them stem from the stigmas that surround bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating, stigmas that friends and family members might associate with them.
For instance, many people don't believe that men can suffer from an eating disorder, while others believe that a person living with one of these disorders can stop the behavior at any time and get healthy. In reality, while men are far less likely than women to suffer from an eating disorder, they are very much susceptible. And because these disorders are a mental health issue, getting healthy must be done in a way that incorporates therapy or counseling, sometimes for the rest of the sufferer's life.
It's important for the general public to understand that eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice; rather, they are very real problems that affect a person's daily life, relationships, and health and can even lead to death. And while each disorder presents different symptoms and issues, they do have similarities that can be taken as warning signs by friends and family members. These warning signs are important, because they offer a chance for the sufferer to receive help early on, which increases the possibility of recovery.
Some of the most common warning signs of an eating disorder include:
- Watching calorie intake fiercely
- Becoming obsessed with exercise
- Eating quite a bit at the dinner table but excusing themselves immediately afterward
- Skipping meals
- Eating only low-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables
- Sudden or severe mood swings
The consequences that come with eating disorders can include severe health risks and can lead to heart and kidney issues, hair loss, stroke, changes in bone density, and death. Unfortunately, eating disorders can also lead to drug or alcohol abuse as the sufferer attempts to curb their appetite or cope with the consequences of their decisions.
It's especially important to deal with substance abuse immediately, so if you suspect your loved one has a problem with drugs or alcohol, let them know they are not alone. Offer to help them find a counselor, support group, or therapist. Remember that, even though you may want to help, there is only so much you can do. Try to be patient as your loved one attempts recovery, because it is never an easy path.
It's important to remember that some of the stigmas surrounding eating disorders deal with the disorder itself; for instance, anorexia and bulimia are two of the most common forms, but they are not the only ones. Eating disorders are a complex combination of mental health and environmental factors and can include a wide variety of behaviors, such as starvation, chewing food and spitting it out, induced vomiting, over-exercising, and abusing diet pills, drinks, or laxatives. All of these behaviors can have serious physical effects.
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