National campaign promotes body acceptance

The Stevenson community is familiar with the idea of accepting diversity and differences among peers. This year, the focus on acceptance for all is shared by another campaign that invites people at different stages of body acceptance to come together, start conversations and share their stories.

Eating disorders develop when the need to feel control over a stressful environment is channeled through food restriction, over-exercise, and an unhealthy focus on body weight. (Photo by Benjamin Watson from Flickr)

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 25 – March 3, 2019, and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) made this year’s focus “Come as you are.” According to the Center for Discovery, a mental health and substance abuse recovery treatment center, the annual campaign was created “to raise awareness about eating disorders and provide resources for those who are curious about the disorders or who are interested in seeking treatment.”

The year features free events in many different states, including the Second Annual Lighting of the Blue Ridge Reception hosted by Michigan Eating Disorders Alliance, and multiple educational talks hosted at the Conference Center at Sheppard Pratt in Towson, Md.

Eating disorders are more common than people think. According to a national survey by NEDA, “20 million women and 10 million men in America have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.” And according to the Child Mind Institute, many people develop eating disorders, most commonly anorexia nervosa and bulimia, while enrolled in college.

“College can be a time of a lot of excitement and stimulation, and also a lot of stress,” said Dr. Alison Baker, a child and adolescent psychopharmacologist, in an interview with the Child Mind Institute. “It asks young people who are not yet adults to act in a very adult way, especially if they’re contending with mental illness and suddenly have to begin managing it on their own.”

NEDA estimated that 10 to 20 percent of college-aged women and 4 to 10 percent of college-aged men suffer from an eating disorder, and the rates are on the rise. NEDA reported that the cause of eating disorders has not yet been discovered, but warning signs can include having a close friend or relative with a mental health condition, being a perfectionist, having body image dissatisfaction, being a victim of bullying, having limited social networks, and/or having a history of some kind of trauma.

25 percent of college-aged women engage in binging and purging as a weight management technique. (Photo by Mike Cicchetti from Flickr)

“Having an eating disorder in college is tough,” said Haley Paxton, a junior nursing major at Stevenson University. “In addition to balancing out class, homework and a job, I also have to incorporate appointments with my treatment team and focus on my recovery. Staying recovered from an eating disorder is a full-time job in itself because there’s no avoiding meal time if I want to keep being successful. If my recovery falls apart, so does every other aspect of college.”

Eating disorders are not something that should be ignored. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness; for nearly every hour of the day, at least one person dies from an eating disorder. For patients not yet facing mortality risks, NEDA reported eating disorders can damage the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and endocrine systems of the body.

Identifying an eating disorder in someone can be difficult. According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), many people who suffer from eating disorders try to conceal their behavior, but looking for the warning signs is always a good start. If someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, be supportive. The Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders suggests educating yourself about eating disorders, spending time with the person, and asking how can you help.

“It can be difficult to see a friend struggle with an eating disorder,” said Caitlin Knight, a junior nursing major. “It’s so important to be there for them and to not treat them any differently. I wish eating disorders were brought more to the surface, as many face shame towards their disease, only causing further harm. Students should stand together to help those who are hurting.”

The NEDC reported that many people do not recognize that their eating patterns have been disordered until they are diagnosed. Those who recognize some of the patterns of eating disorders mentioned above in their own lives, it may be wise to talk to a mental health professional. From there, you and your doctor can decide if you are struggling with an eating disorder, and, if so, what the best next step will be for treatment and recovery.

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