BY JAMIE LOBER
The National Eating Disorder Association declared Monday, February 25 through Sunday, March 3, 2019, as eating disorder awareness week. There are many women who made the resolution to lose weight or exercise more and took it too far. The National Institute of Mental Health reinforced that eating disorders are serious and not a lifestyle choice. While both genders are affected, more women struggle than men. Research shows that the cause is complex but may relate to psychological, social, biological, behavioral and genetic factors. Brain imaging studies reveal the brain activity is different in a woman with an eating disorder compared to a healthy woman.
No two eating disorders are the same. When you understand the symptoms, it becomes easier to determine if you or someone you love is struggling.
- Anorexia nervosa: avoiding, restricting or eating small amounts of certain foods. These women see themselves as overweight even when it is not the reality and tend to weigh themselves frequently. Beware of distorted body image, extremely thin appearance, and intensive exercise and restricted eating.
- Bulimia nervosa: eating large amounts of food out of the ordinary, followed by use of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercise, vomiting or a combination. With bulimia, a person can be average weight or overweight. Sometimes dehydration or electrolyte imbalance will occur, along with other serious consequences as a result of the behaviors.
- Binge-eating disorder: having no control over eating.This leads women to be overweight or obese.
The earlier you seek treatment, the better your outcome will be. You do not want to delay, as it can put you at risk for medical complications, and even suicide. Women with eating disorders often have co-occurring disorders like depression, substance abuse or anxiety that need to be addressed. The good news is that there are many treatments available.
- Individual, group or family psychotherapy
- Cognitive therapy where you learn to identify unhealthy thinking patterns and replace them with better beliefs
- Mood stabilizer, antidepressant or antipsychotic medications
- Clinical trials where you may try new drugs or combinations of drugs to see if they are safe and yield good results
Regardless of the treatment you choose, you can expect to set realistic goals. This means achieving a healthy weight, getting back to a balanced diet, reducing excessive exercise and cutting out any binging or purging that was related to the disorder. Your physician can help point you in the direction of some great resources as well. Remember that having a positive and healthy body image is a critical part of mental wellness and eating disorder prevention. Consider things that you like about yourself and be appreciative of what your body is able to do, such as dance, run or swim. Be accepting of yourself as a whole person and put yourself in an environment with people who will do the same. As a woman, you are likely charged with setting an example for your household, so you want to be extra cognizant of your behaviors.
You cannot always tell who is in recovery based on physical appearance alone. There are some resolutions you can make if you have been struggling with body image or have an eating disorder of your own.
- Make a list of what you are thankful for in your life.This can be anything from a great group of friends to cool winter weather to a dog or cat who loves you unconditionally. You will travel further focusing on gratitude instead of negativity.
- Write down the little victories along your journey.Whether you are striving to change negative thought patterns, create a healthy nutrition plan or follow through with therapy appointments, these are all worth celebrating.
- Focus on self-care instead of self-destruction.Positive affirmations or quotes by inspiring people can help add some good energy to your day. If you are compulsively exercising or eating something at a certain time, replace the habit with a healthier one such as doing an activity you enjoy, like singing, reading or journaling.
- Remove anything toxic from your environment.Set boundaries for yourself so you are only surrounded by people who want the best for you and are supportive. Pay attention to the media that you consume as well. It is easy to find unhealthy images and consider them normal.
- Remember that nobody is perfect. If you make a mistake or slip up into a bad habit, let it go and continue to move forward. Know that you are capable and, in time, can reach a full recovery. Every woman and her family is deserving of a healthier 2019.