Eating Disorders: What to Look for and What to Do

Did you know that every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder, and 1 in 5 anorexia deaths are by suicide? 

young woman or teenager girl sitting on ground alone and worried at home suffering nutrition and eating disorder in diet and weight loss obsession with scale in anorexia and bulimia concept

Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness?  

Did you know that every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder, and 1 in 5 anorexia deaths are by suicide? 

Did you know that 33-50% of anorexia patients and nearly 50% of bulimia and binge eating disorder patients also have a mood disorder, such as depression?  

Eating disorders can be very dangerous and should be taken very seriously!  I am extremely passionate about this topic. It breaks my heart to see people head down this path.  Like most disorders, there is not just one cause, but usually a combination of biological, psychological, and social/environmental risk factors.  

Risk factors include: 

  • Having a close relative with an eating disorder or another mental health condition
  • A history of dieting
  • Perfectionistic tendencies
  • Dissatisfaction with body image
  • A history of an anxiety disorder
  • Experience with weight-based teasing
  • A thin ideal internalization
  • Feelings of loneliness/isolation

Parents: What Can You Look For? 

Here are just some of the warning signs that your child may have an eating disorder. Remember, these warning signs do not necessarily mean they have an eating disorder, but they are something to pay attention to. They include: 

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Preoccupation with food/dieting/weight loss
  • Comments of being “fat”
  • Denying hunger, meal skipping
  • Withdrawal from friends/family
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Dry skin/nails
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor wound healing

Warning signs of binging and purging behavior include:  

  • Disappearance of large amounts of food
  • Empty food wrappers/containers
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals

Parents: What Can You Do? 

Communicate! You may be fearful of asking/opening up about the topic, but don’t let that keep you from talking to your children. They don’t need judgement or lectures, but openness, empathy, and honesty regarding their feelings. Express love and support. 

Listen! As parents, we can be quick to react, cast blame/shame/guilt, try to be their therapist, or gossip to our friends, but it’s important that we take the time to listen to them and their struggles. You may not understand what they are experiencing and expressing, but that doesn’t make it less real to them.  

Do! They may not be willing to get the help they need, but it’s okay to encourage it. Normalize treatment/counseling and be optimistic that it can help (because it can!) Forcing them to eat or stop binging and purging won’t help. They may not be 100% willing to get help for their eating disorder, but maybe they are willing to get help for their depression, anxiety, issues with friends, self-esteem, or more. Getting help in those areas can end up being beneficial for their eating disorder as well.  

Teens: What Can You Do? 

Communicate! Maybe you are struggling with negative thoughts about yourself, your body, your life…you don’t know where to turn or what to even say. I encourage you to speak out. I know it’s difficult and scary. We don’t like to be vulnerable. We think people won’t or don’t understand. We don’t like people to know that we aren’t 100% okay.  

But, the truth is, NO one is 100% okay, and speaking up about what you are going through can get you the help you need. There are counselors, like myself, who would like nothing more than to help you with your struggles, but you have to be brave enough to let someone know. Remember, YOU are worth it! 

Listen! Your parents may not completely understand what you are going through, but know that they care. They may not react or handle things in ways that you like or that you feel are helpful, but know that they are doing their best with what they know. Listen to their concerns. They will probably tell you that they are concerned with what they see, and they have a right to be. They will probably tell you that they want you to get help. Your instinct may be to tell them you don’t want or need help, but hear them out. They only want you to be free of the pain you are feeling.  

Do! Do you find yourself engaging in any of the warning signs listed to the left? Are you depressed or anxious? Getting the help you need now will make a huge difference in helping you live a happy and fulfilled life. The longer you wait, the more challenging it can be to be free from it. Please remind yourself that it’s OK to ask for help and get the help you need.  Commit to getting help!  

As the Executive Director of Pike Road Counseling, LLC, Mindy Landrum works to create a welcoming, warm, and therapeutic atmosphere for all clients. Mindy is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree. 334.603.1427, 

As an editor, copywriter, and social media manager at exploreMedia, I work to develop content that is relevant and interesting to our readers and coordinate with contributing writers.

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