Real Talk About Eating Disorders
What to do when you don't know where to start
February 21st to 27th marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which explains why you’ve been seeing those #NEDAwareness hashtags pop up all over social media lately. And though NEDA does an excellent job in providing resources and support about eating disorders, these issues are obviously too big (and too complicated!) to fit neatly into a mere seven days—they’re something that seeps into every second of someone’s life. They're also something that most of us know all too well: 20 million women in the U.S. say they've suffered from an eating disorder at some point (including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, among others), and these body insecurities start early. Girls begin to feel concerned about their weight when they're as young as 6, and between 40% and 60% of elementary school girls say they're worried about getting fat.
The rate of eating disorders has been increasing consistently since 1950, and what’s more, many people are hesitant to ask for help. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there, but sometimes the hardest thing to find is simply where to begin. So, we went straight to the source—Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association—and asked her the best first steps to take if you think you or someone you know might have a problem. Read her tips below, and be sure and check out other great resources like the Crisis Help Line and Project Heal for more info on eating disorder recovery.
What’s the first step you should take if you think you might have an eating disorder (but aren’t ready to tell an adult immediately)?
There's a free, anonymous online screening available at www.MyBodyScreening.org. If the quiz indicates you may need professional help, reaching out to an adult you can trust is always a great first step. If you aren't comfortable opening up to a parent right away, consider talking to a teacher or guidance counselor who might be able to help you have the conversation. You can give your teachers the Educator's Toolkit and share the Parent Toolkit with your parents so they have some guidance of what next steps to take to help you.
If you think your friend might have an eating disorder, what should you do?
It's important to address your concerns in a calm, non-judgmental manner. Let your friend know what you have observed that has you concerned and encourage her to ask an adult for help. If you feel comfortable doing so, you might offer to help your friend approach an adult to start a conversation about what they have been going through and how to get help.
In today's #fitspo-crazed culture, how do you recommend having a healthy—but not obsessively healthy—relationship with food?
It's certainly a challenge! If you are finding that you are struggling with the messages from the media or your relationship with food is getting in the way of your everyday life, this might mean you have a hard time being flexible with your exercise or eating routines. Talk to an adult about finding an eating disorder specialist to get help. We recommend getting help as soon as you are aware of concerns so that you can work on getting back to a healthy relationship as soon as possible!
Mysko's message deserves repeating: The sooner you talk to someone, the sooner you'll heal, and the sooner you'll be happy and healthy again. Whether it's #NEDAwareness week or any other week of the year, don't wait.