Despite the fact that eating disorders are extremely common (1 in 10), they are poorly understood and frequently untreated. Here are some important facts about eating disorders that all parents should know:
You cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder based on their body weight. The media consistently portrays eating disorders as emaciated white girls, but a very small percentage of eating disorders lead to visually obvious underweight. The vast majority of eating disorders maintain “normal” to “above average” body weight.
Eating disorders are very common. One in 10 people has, had, or will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders occur in all races, genders, and socio-economic levels. Marginalized populations, including queer, fat, and female, are at higher risk of eating disorders.
Eating disorders are mental disorders. They involve disordered mental patterns. They cannot be reversed by only focusing on the disordered behavior. Until we treat the underlying mentality of an eating disorder, we will not find recovery.
Eating disorders are heavily influenced by society. Eating disorders are most often observed in patriarchal societies that promote the “thin ideal” for women. The combination of putting women in an inferior social standing and expecting them to control their actions, speech and body size is linked to increasing rates of eating disorders.
Disordered eating behavior (AKA dieting) is the first stage of an eating disorder. Intervention at the dieting stage can prevent an eating disorder from taking hold. Thus, not encouraging or allowing dieting is one of the best ways to prevent eating disorders.
You don’t need to wait for someone to become medically underweight to treat their eating disorder. The majority of people who have eating disorders will never become medically underweight. The best time for intervention is whenever the disordered eating behaviors are observed.
Eating disorders often occur “on top of” other mental disorders. The most common factors common to eating disorders are underlying levels of anxiety and depression. Autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and other mental disorders are also associated with eating disorders. Many believe the eating disorder arises to mask the discomfort experienced with the underlying conditions.
Eating disorders often occur “alongside” addictive behaviors. Many people who have eating disorders also struggle with substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, self-harming behaviors, suicidality, chronic lying, gambling, and shopping, and other addictive behaviors. Many believe that addictive behaviors and eating disorders are all maladaptive coping mechanisms that are driven by emotional discomfort.
Eating disorders often occur in people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Research links PTSD and eating disorders. Trauma physically changes the body’s stress response and nervous system. The majority of women have experienced sexual harassment, 33% of women have experienced sexual assault, and approximately 50% of people who have eating disorders have been sexually abused.