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Eating Disorders Awareness Month
Dayna M. Watson, LAPC     Feb 16, 2008

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 13% of all females in the US will struggle with an eating disorder each year.  Research suggests that more individuals will be diagnosed with an eating disorder than Alzheimer's disease or breast cancer. 

Although there are different variations of this disorder, all eating disorders involve a significant disturbance in eating behaviors.  This disturbance can be through a drastic reduction or increase in the amount of food eaten, as well as other changes such as excessive exercise or use of purging methods. 

Eating disorders also involve emotional distress or extreme concern over body appearance, body shape and weight.  Some individuals who struggle with eating disorders may be noticeably underweight, others will appear to maintain a healthy weight, while others may be overweight. 

Individuals from any race, socioeconomic status, or educational level can be affected by an eating disorder.  Although eating disorders can affect males and females of all ages, approximately 90% of all individuals with an eating disorder are females between the ages of 12 and 25.

The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.  These eating disorders are often considered a mental health issue, all three have serious short-term and long-term effects on the individual's physical health.  Hair loss, tooth decay, infertility, kidney failure, and death are some of the possible consequences of eating disorders.  

While a serious condition, there is hope and healing available in a wide-range treatment options.  Treatment should be provided by a multidisciplinary team, including therapists, nutritionists, and physicians, and can take place either in a hospital or on an outpatient basis. 

The origin of eating disorders is unclear, through research suggests that culture may play an important role in the development of an unhealthy body image.  Many theorists suggest that the idealized body types of stick thin models and actresses place unrealistic expectations before the average American woman.  According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 80% of all American women are dissatisfied with their appearance. 

Magazines, advertising, and television help to feed this dissatisfaction with a barrage of images, both healthy and unhealthy, to consumers on a daily basis.  Culture is certainly not the only factor in the development of eating disorders.  Other factors may include childhood trauma, stress, low-self esteem, and other environmental factors.

In her book Body Wars, Margo Maine reports staggering statistics on body image in young children.  Her research suggests that approximately 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat, and 51% of 9-10 year olds report feeling better about themselves while dieting. 

Children and adolescents are now aware of body image from a very early age, and some may develop unhealthy dieting and exercise habits as early as kindergarten.  At a time when children should be playing and learning, they are worried about the calories in their snacks and whether or not they are thin enough. 

As a parent, spouse, friend, pastor, or coworker, it is important to know how to look for warning signs in yourself or your friends or family.  Skipping meals, excessive eating in short periods of time, exercising more than 2 hours per day, frequent trips to the restroom immediately following meals, extreme self-criticism, or rapid weight loss or weight gain can be signs that a person may be struggling with an unhealthy self-image or an eating disorder. 

An individual may express concerns about their body or weight that seem to be inconsistent with reality, such as a very small person complain about being obese or disgusting.  Withdrawal from favorite activities, social situations, or a change in work or school performance may also indicate that an individual is struggling.  Often, an individual who struggles with an eating disorder may also be experiencing depression, anxiety or substance abuse issues.
 
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder or other body image issues, it is important to seek professional help.  The Samaritan Counseling Center of Southwest Georgia offers individual, couple, family and group counseling for all ages.  If you or someone you know is interested in participating in an eating disorders support group or is looking for individual counseling, please contact the Samaritan Counseling Center at (229) 243-1633.




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