What to do if you have an eating disorder

Did you know that the National Institute of Mental Health studied 10,000 teenagers and found that 88% of them have suffered from an eating disorder at some point in their lives? And that during the pandemic, calls to the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline jumped 40% over the year over year average in call volume? So if you are a teen and have ever struggled with an eating disorder, the most important thing you should know is that you are not alone. 

Eating disorders can take many different forms: anorexia nervosa (severe caloric restriction), bulimia nervosa (binging and purging), pica (eating of non-food items), rumination syndrome (constant regurgitation of undigested food), avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (reduced or selective food intake due to psychological reasons) and they can manifest in a variety of other anxiety, depressive, or substance abuse disorders. Officially, an eating disorder is: a mental disorder defined by abnormal eating behaviors that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health. Untreated eating disorders can lead to hospitalization, and in some cases, death, especially when it comes to anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia can also cause severe health issues in teens, such as irregular periods, weak bones, heart problems, delayed puberty, and slow growth. 

No one really knows what actually causes eating disorders, but biological and environmental factors can be a piece of the puzzle. The age of Social Media hasn’t exactly helped matters either, now that everyone can hide their flaws behind hundreds of Instagram and Snapchat filters. This can lead you to believe that you will never measure up to the image of perfection you might constantly see when you’re scrolling through your feed, even if you logically know that what you’re looking at is completely fake! 

Children as young as five years old are aware of the cultural messages regarding body image and dieting. If you were raised in a home or grew up around people where a lot of importance was placed on appearance, or you heard (or received) judgment when it came to weight or how you look, that’s a pretty serious risk factor. People who have been teased/bullied about their appearance can also be at risk. 

If you have or suspect you have an eating disorder, please do not try to manage it on your own. Tell a trusted adult, look at online programs and resources, and most importantly, talk to a qualified medical professional as soon as you can so that you can get a treatment plan established. Medication and therapy yield incredibly high recovery results when supervised by a medical professional, and it’s critical that you have that kind of support as soon as possible. In therapy, you might learn cognitive behavior skills, such as listening to your body’s cues when it comes to eating or stopping to eat when you’re no longer hungry. Another important skill-set is changing how you talk to yourself. If you find yourself thinking negatively about your appearance and saying mean things about your body to yourself, ask if you would ever talk that way to a person you care about? If the answer is a horrified NO, then this is a skill-set you definitely need to cultivate. Your body hears you when you say mean things about it, and that means that you might be making negative behavioral choices that can harm your physical and mental health. The good news: when you learn to start speaking about and to yourself kindly, you’ll naturally want to take better care of yourself and your body, so get as much support as you can around that as quickly as possible!

To learn more about eating disorders and how to cope with them, visit http://nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support We can’t stress enough the importance of telling someone that you need help, even if you have to start with a peer, because the less isolated you feel, the more likely you are to seek and receive the help you need.