Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are common in western countries, with between 1 and 3% of young women meeting the criteria for diagnosis and up to 10% having some form of eating problem. Such disorders are particularly worrisome due to their serious physical health implications. Living with an eating disorder can mean you are dangerously underweight, which leads to an increased risk of a whole range of illnesses and complications.
How do eating disorders originate?
It is important to understand what is going on in their life and how the disorder specifically affects them. An eating disorder can start out innocently as a diet, as the person begins to control and restrict their eating. Over time, however, this habit becomes all consuming, with the person constantly obsessing about food and their body shape. Their compulsion to restrict their eating becomes fixed and less within their control.
Frequently, sufferers get into the habit of controlling their eating as a means of managing stress or difficult feelings. They control their eating as other things in their life are less easy to control. For many, an eating disorder is a like an addiction: though the person knows on one level that restricting their eating is harmful, they are literally addicted to their compulsive habits. It is very hard for them to break the habit of constantly ruminating about food and restricting their eating. Overcoming an addiction can present many challenges but it can be done with support and a willingness to try.
Can eating disorders be prevented?
To help prevent eating disorders, you should try to talk openly about eating habits and body image. It might not be easy, but it's important. Here are some helpful tips to talk to your loved one about eating disorders:
1. Encourage reasonable eating habits. Talk about how diet can affect his or her health, appearance and energy level. Encourage your loved one to eat when he or she is hungry. Make a habit of eating together.
2. Discuss media messages. Television programs, movies, websites and other media might send the message that only a certain body type is acceptable
3. Promote a healthy body image. Talk to your loved one about his or her self-image and offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary.
4. Foster self-esteem. Remind your loved one that your love and acceptance is unconditional, not based on his or her weight or appearance.
5. Share the dangers of dieting and emotional eating. Remind your loved one that eating or controlling his or her diet isn't a healthy way to cope with emotions. Instead, encourage them to talk to loved ones, friends or a counselor about problems he or she might be facing
Use food for nourishment — not as a reward or consequence. Resist the temptation to offer food as a bribe. Similarly, don't take away food as a punishment.