New school year; new eating disorder epidemic?

We all know what it’s like to start another school year.  Sometimes you’re going back to the same school, one grade older.  Sometimes you’re starting a new middle or high school, or even going away to college.  There’s the excitement of the unexpected — who you will meet, what you will learn, how you will change.  There’s also the underlying anxiety and nervousness of “will people like me?”, and “will I be accepted?”.  I remember this all too keenly.

It is fall, and students are going back to school with visions of basketball games, cheerleading practice, football heroes, and chemistry tests floating through their minds.  As a recent blog post http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/school-stress-adolescent-eating-disorder-psychology-counseling/ noted, Back to School Stress can show up in many forms, and sometimes the overwhelming feeling of expectations and rules leads to the development of eating disorders.

How do you deal with it all without losing your self??  Whether it is being a part of the popular crowd, or earning A’s to get into a good college, we all have to cope with the stress of new and intimidating opportunities.  Eating disorders can show up in the form of restricting amount and type of food, it can mean triggering a feeling that you can never exercise enough and that “goal” weight just keeps getting smaller.  In other instances, eating disorders can involve bingeing on food until you cannot feel anymore, and then purging or using laxatives.

All of these behaviors, in some combination or another, really underline the emotional pain that is underneath.  It is a pain that pangs as you wonder if being yourself, as you truly are, is “good enough”.  It is a vicious cycle of being ashamed or embarrassed by these behaviors that you do not understand, and in turn hiding or lying about these behaviors because they have, at some point, “helped” to cope with overwhelming feelings.  These behaviors in fact make the pain worse, and feelings of isolation and despair continue to intensify.

What can you do? Whether you are a parent, friend, or person affected by an eating disorder, first know that you are NOT ALONE.  With over 10 million women and 1 million men (reported by the National Eating Disorders Association) showing symptoms of an eating disorder, the epidemic is growing and impacting us all.  Secondly, know that you are not at fault for this — I repeat — NOT at fault for the issues, and there are many qualified professionals who are eager to help you.  Families, loved ones, individuals, I challenge us all to come together in the mission to erase eating disorders and to educate the public about the causes, dangers, and treatment options.

2 Responses to “New school year; new eating disorder epidemic?”

    • Yes,
      Some warning signs of anorexia include:

      Refusing to eat and denying hunger
      An intense fear of gaining weight
      Negative or distorted self-image
      Excessively exercising
      Flat mood or lack of emotion
      Preoccupation with food
      Social withdrawal
      Thin appearance
      Dizziness or fainting
      Soft, downy hair present on the body (lanugo)
      Menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation (amenorrhea)

      And of bulimia:
      Eating until the point of discomfort or pain, often with high-fat or sweet foods
      Self-induced vomiting
      Laxative use
      Unhealthy focus on body shape and weight
      Having a distorted, excessively negative body image
      Going to the bathroom after eating or during meals
      Feeling that you can’t control your eating behavior
      Abnormal bowel functioning
      Damaged teeth and gums

      Among others….this is not an exhaustive list! I would say that avoidance and withdrawal are big signs to look for.
      I would suggest consulting with a professional before talking with your child. As I mentioned before, it is very difficult for the affected individual to confront what is happening, and a professional may be able to help a parent with words/tools for opening up a conversation and getting help.