Low self esteem. Restriction. Rules. Loss of Control. Failure. It’s a cycle that people nowadays know all too well.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 28.2 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime.
That’s 9% of Americans, suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating.
With the second highest death rate of all mental illnesses, as reported by ANAD, eating disorders are not something to take lightly.
This week, Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, marks National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. In honor of this week, I reached out to a professional counselor, Jane Owen, to discuss eating disorders and her own personal experiences.
Owen is the Director of the Educational Enrichment Programs, Clinical Services and the Counseling Center at Waynesburg University. Being someone who has struggled from disordered eating most of her life, she was able to provide both her personal and professional experiences in regards to the topic.
Question: Tell me about your personal experience with suffering from disordered eating.
Answer: I started my first “diet” when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember a psychology teacher in high school telling me that most people who lose weight, gain it back, plus more within a year. I replied, “never,” not with all that hard work – exercising, counting calories [and] restricting. This started me on the long, and expensive path of every weight loss option available … It’s annoying, just like other kinds of problems, when you focus so much on them, sometimes they have too much power.
Q: Based on your experience, what are people’s perceptions of eating disorders?
A: Based on my experience, many people experience disordered eating. In fact, so many that disordered eating seems more the norm than healthy eating. I think that eating disorders begin earlier and go much later. I’m 63 and I know many people my own age who still struggle with disordered eating.
Q: What are the common misconceptions that you’ve come across?
A: That eating disorders affect teenage girls, that males do not experience eating disorders [and] that eating disorders aren’t that serious.
Q: What are the causes and recognizable signs of eating disorders in teens and young adults?
A: Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating – also known as binge eating disorder. The signs vary depending on the disorder. What they all have in common is a preoccupation with food, eating [and] body perceptions. Food is used as a coping mechanism. Signs like restricting food or overeating, eating in private, feelings of guilt and shame that accompany events around food.
Q: How can friends, families and other individuals provide assistance to those suffering?
A: This can be very difficult. It’s not helpful to make comments about body size. What is helpful is to express compassion [and] concern, [but] this is often not seen as helpful either. Educate yourself about disordered eating [and] plan events that are not centered around food.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who might be struggling with an eating disorder?
A: Geneen Roth has written extensively on Eating Disorders. In her book, “Women, Food and God,” she talks about the following guidelines for people struggling with eating disorders.
Eat when you are hungry.
Eat sitting down in a calm environment.
Eat without distractions.
Eat what your body wants.
Eat until you are satisfied.
Eat with the intention of being in full view of others.
Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.
I think this is what people without eating disorders do on a regular basis.
For more information, visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, or contact Waynesburg University’s Counseling Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-852-3323.