Imagine this: you have just moved to a new city to attend college. You are anxious about the freshman 15 that everyone jokes about, grades, money, and making new friends. Life has never been more stressful. You’ve always been a perfectionist, and it has helped you pass tests and allowed you to go to the college you wanted to attend. Halfway through the semester, you find yourself looking in the mirror more and hating the way you look. You want to feel a sense of control in your life, because as you look around, everything is changing in your life.
This can be a turning point in people’s lives, where their eating disorder story begins. For some, they lose their life to the disorder. In the United States, there are over 30 million people who are currently battling an eating disorder. Tragically, every 62 minutes someone loses their battle as a result of their eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
National Eating Disorder Awareness and Screening Week is Feb. 24 – March 1. Although this disorder can affect people of any age, the most at-risk group of people are ages 14-25 and are under stress. This puts college students at a high risk for developing an eating disorder.
Eating disorders don’t look the same for everyone who struggles with them. To understand eating disorders, you must first recognize the two main types, because each have different symptoms. People who struggle with eating disorders are often very good at hiding it from their friends and family. It is important to know the signs to look for, even though they may not seem like they are related to the illness.
Anorexia nervosa is defined as restricting energy intake which leads to a low body weight. People who suffer from anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and a disturbed image of what their body looks like. They may be extremely underweight but when they look in the mirror, they see a much larger person looking back at them, as stated in American Family Physician.
When thinking about eating disorders, many recognize anorexia but may not have a full understanding of bulimia. This disorder includes binge eating, which is eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, and then purging via vomiting, using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. Not unlike anorexia, people suffering from bulimia have a distorted image of what their body actually looks like. Although people with this disorder purge the foods that they eat, they typically do not lose as much weight as someone with anorexia nervosa. An individual suffering from bulimia nervosa can be at a normal weight or overweight.
Know the signs
Anorexia and bulimia wreak havoc on the human body. Symptoms associated with anorexia include brittle hair and nails, thickening of the skin, swelling of the face, dizziness upon standing, feeling cold all of the time, and an abundant amount of peach fuzz covering the body. Symptoms of bulimia include dental cavities, reddening of gums from gum disease, edema, swelling of the jaw directly below the ear, fluctuations in weight, and scars or calluses on fingers and hands from self-induced vomiting, according to American Family Physician.
Behavioral signs can vary from person-to-person, but many individuals with any form of eating disorder may not enjoy eating around others and it can cause immense anxiety for them. They may also dress in layers to hide their weight loss or to keep warm because their body cannot regulate heat as it should. Many individuals who suffer from an eating disorder also have a perfectionist tendency. It is important to know the signs so that you can help those struggling with these potentially life-threatening disorders.
Eating disorders can be life threatening and should be taken seriously. If you suspect someone is struggling, there are many steps that the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) gives to help you talk to a loved one.
It is best to educate yourself as much as you can about eating disorders, rehearse what you want to say, talk in private, and be honest with them. You should also use “I” statements, avoid “you” statements, be caring yet firm, and prepare yourself for negative reactions.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or are concerned about someone else, refer to health services such as a primary care provider.
The Minot State Student Health Clinic is available to students who may need physical or mental health care related to eating disorders. Another option is the NEDA hotline. They offer help via phone calls and text messaging. Call 800-931-2237 or text NEDA to 741741 to be connected to a volunteer specially trained to help those struggling with eating disorders.