Despite ongoing awareness and education campaigns, Eating Disorders are still too-often perceived as the sole dominion of teenage girls who either restrict intake (anorexia nervosa) or who binge-and-purge (bulimia) in order to achieve low weights. While it’s true that this concept of eating disorders is rooted in some reality, here’s a few things that you might not realize about Eating Disorders:
1. Boys Have Eating Disorders, Too (and the number is rising, too)
Over 10 million American males will battle some form of an eating disorder or body dysmorphia (a self-perception of body that is unrelated to objective facts) challenge at some point in their life. Eating disorders can impact all races, religions, and body types, and the prevalence in males often goes undiagnosed and untreated due to pervasive cultural misconceptions and social norms.
2. Athletes Are At Risk
When the body itself becomes the primary focus of the activity, efforts to manipulate the body can easily transition into problematic patterns. This can be true for high-performance athletes, as well as those in other body-related pursuits (modeling, weight-lifting, etc). A recent study indicated that roughly 1/3 of all males and up to 2/3 of all females in weight-class and aesthetics sports and activities (such as wrestling, gymnastics, dancing, or modeling) are affected by an Eating Disorder.
3. Bullying Increases Eating Disorder Risks
Students who are bullied at school are at an increased risk for Eating Disorders. (Children exposed to abuse and trauma are also at an increased risk.)
While Eating Disorders are complex and multi-layered challenges with many causes and motivations, among those suffering from an Eating Disorder, there is a common element of expressing control over the environment .
4. Eating Disorders Aren’t All About Being Skinny
Many people approach diet and exercise in an integrated and holistic manner which is healthy for the mind and body. While a focus on health can be beneficial, when behaviors become problematic, exercise becomes compulsive, or crash-dieting becomes physically dangerous, there is a strong potential for an Eating Disorder to occur.
Conversely, some Eating Disorders result in obesity and overall poor health, and binge eating to handle emotional distress is as problematic as food restriction.
5. Eating Disorders Aren’t Just A Phase
An active Eating Disorder isn’t just a phase that will pass with a new school year, a new sport season, or a new target weight being achieved. Eating Disorders are complex challenges which are best approached in a holistic treatment model which addresses not only the problem behavior, but also the social and emotional issues which are “behind” the disorder. Healthy eating doesn’t just pertain to what’s on the plate for people who are suffering from an Eating Disorder, and so finding targeted treatment which can support the varied underlying motivations, anxieties, traumas, and behavioral patterns is a research-based best practice for treating Eating Disorders. Just “waiting it out” rarely helps and is instead often dangerous; often, the victim needs help in successfully confronting the disorder.
You can find more information on Eating Disorders here.
ABOUT THE AUTHORJake Weld holds a masters degree in education and has over twenty years of experience in traditional, LD, and therapeutic schools, adolescent and young adult programs, and conventional, wilderness, and residential settings. He has served as the Executive Director of a therapeutic boarding school, the Assistant Headmaster of a specialized LD boarding school, and as the Academic and Program Director of various schools and programs. He is currently the Director of Admissions and Business Development for Mansfield Hall, a specialized college support program in Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI.