I come from a long line of women who are quite concerned with the size and shape of their body (read: healthy is good, but thinner is better), which has led, on one level or another, to high emotions, mental fragility, and some fairly serious disordered eating. It has also caused some angst amongst my sisters and I as we try to push back against the unhealthy, unproductive thoughts and feelings we have about food and our bodies. We often check in with each other about how we are doing on the “not-going-crazy-about-food” front and ensure that we are maintaining a healthy weight — on both sides of the Body Mass Index spectrum.
But every now and then I wonder if I am slipping. I’ll notice that I don’t really feel that hungry when, by all rights, I should be famished. Nothing sounds good to eat, ever. And is this me getting obsessive about exercise, or is it just that I’m determined to train as well as I can for my next marathon? How does it look and feel when you are sliding into an eating disorder? Am I still on the “normal” range, or is my determination to live a healthy lifestyle becoming an unhealthy obsession? If I am approaching the slope, I want to know as soon as I can so I can keep myself from falling headlong down it.
Next week — from February 23 through March 1 — is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It seems like a good time to make myself more aware of tools, resources, and what an eating disorder actually looks like, and to help others who may be on the brink do the same. Recent research shows that what may start out as “normal” dieting progresses to pathological dieting more than 1/3 of the time. And 20-30% of pathological dieters develop mild disordered eating behaviors, while 15% go all the way to full-on eating disorders. The physical and psychological effects of disordered eating on the person and their family can be severe and long-lasting, which is why it is important to catch them as early as possible.
Because of my family history, I was curious about getting screened for an eating disorder. While I don’t think I am too close to the dangerous end of the spectrum, I wasn’t sure I could trust myself to judge my thoughts and behavior accurately. However, getting screened seemed like something that might be difficult to do — in my case because I’m not likely to take my kids along with me to something like that, nor am I inclined to find a babysitter just for the occasion. Thankfully, the people at mybodyscreening.org have made it much easier for people like me to figure out where they stand. A simple, and fairly quick, survey lets you know if you are in the “disordered eating” category. The screening took me less than 5 minutes and put my mind at ease that I am not in any immediate eating disorder danger.
Last year during the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, nearly 13,000 people across the country were screened for eating disorders, and 75% of those screened tested positive for symptoms of an eating disorder. That’s a lot of people who can get help or at least be aware that they’re on the edge — and a lot of families who could be saved from the trauma of having to deal with more serious, engrained, and fully developed eating disorders.
Next week, screenings will be available at more than 500 colleges and 70 community-based organizations across the country — and, of course, they’re always available online. You can find out where at mybodyscreening.org. If you are worried about yourself, or have someone you are worried about, it’s worth checking to see if there’s a screening close by. Dr. Douglas G. Jacobs, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard and the president and medical director of Screening for Mental Health, says, “It is important to remember that eating disorders are treatable. Taking a screening can help identify an eating disorder, which can translate to saved lives.”
Save yourself and your loved ones a lot of heartache and pain and get help for eating disorders early. Trust me. It’s worth it.
photo credit: Lizzie Heiselt