Dieting season raises concerns about eating disorders
January is traditionally the month where Americans think about getting into shape.
For a vast majority of us, that means committing to a diet.
But there is a segment of the population for which the concept of dieting takes on a potentially deadly consequence.
These are the individuals whose dieting slips over into the realm of an eating disorder.
According to statistics provided on the South Carolina Department of Metal Health's Web site, approximately 8 million Americans have an eating disorder, of which 7 million are women and 1 million are men.
The most common eating disorder, and the most deadly of all, is anorexia nervosa, which affects approximately one in every 200 American women.
Many famous women, including actresses Jane Fonda and Susan Dey, dancer Paula Abdul, Princess Dianna, athletes Nadia Comaneci and Kathy Rigby and fashion maven Joan Rivers have all suffered from this disorder at some point in their lives.
However, only one in every ten who suffer from this disease actually receive treatment and as many as 10 percent of those with the disease will die from the condition within 10 years of diagnosis.
The average age of an American female suffering from disordered eating is between 12 and 25.
What You Can Do
There are several useful things loved ones can do to support eating disorder recovery. The following is a list of "Dos" and "Don'ts."
- Tell the person you are concerned about her. Let her know that you are scared, that you care, and that you would like to help.
- Validate her feelings and perceptions even if you do not agree with them. They are her reality and are causing her pain. Encourage her to talk to others as well and to be honest with her treatment team about her thoughts and feelings.
- Examine your own attitudes and beliefs concerning food, eating, body size and appearance.
- Encourage your loved one in her decisions to make changesespecially one of career, school or relationships. Previous choices may have been made to please or to live up to expectations of others. Empower her to recognize her strengths and capabilities.
- Understand that this is a serious, life-threatening illness not just a call for attention, a fad, simple dieting, or an act of stubbornness.
- Do not discuss her weight, the number of calories consumed, or particular eating habits.
- Do not focus on appearance or on how she "ought to" eat or look. Try to discuss things other than food, weight, counting calories and exercise. Try to discuss feelings.
- In addition, do not talk about other people's bodies or weight, including your own this will be internalized as a personal message even if it was not meant to be.
- Do not comment or compliment her on any weight gain you may notice or weight loss. "You look good" or "you look healthy" may sound like something positive to you, but she may interpret those phrases either as "Oh my gosh, I must be fat" or as "You must not have liked me much before, appearances really do matter."
- Do not question her each day about what she ate or whether she engaged in symptoms. Instead as, "How was your day?" which will tell you how she is doing and feeling without making her uncomfortable.
- Do not wrongfully accuse her of lying about everything in your relationship because she has lied about her eating disorder behaviors. Understand that this is often done out of shame, guilt and fear and is a symptom of the disordernot necessarily character.
- There is only so much a friend or family member can do. This is frustrating when you care about someone. Yo cannot make this person eat in a "normal" way. Trying to do so won't help and it won't work. Your job is to be an emotional support, not to be the "food police."
There are professionals helping your friend or family member at this point so the responsibility for recovery should rest on your friend or family member and their treatment team.
You might want to find a support group or educational meeting where you can share your concerns about your loved one.