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Recognizing eating disorders can help save a life


Nearly 29 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder are complex psychological conditions according to Dr. Desire Christensen. She’s a psychiatrist with Aspirus Behavioral Health in Stevens Point.

Christensen says eating disorders can be hereditary or learned from seeing how family members interact with food and talk about body image.

It can also develop through starting a diet.

“They start that weight loss process. They got a lot of positive feedback from people around them. That can encourage to continue that behavior. Then stress. Transitions to college, change in job, those kinds of things can increase risk,” said Christensen.

Common early warning signs include:

  • Dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Frequently talking about food, weight, or body image
  • Excessive exercising or use of measures to “offset” food intake
  • Purging, restricting, or compulsive eating
  • Abuse of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives
  • Denial of disordered eating despite concerns of those around them
  • Isolating during mealtimes, eating in secret, or hiding food

Eating disorders can lead to health conditions like amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), fainting, hair loss, osteoporosis, dental problems, heart problems, or other serious symptoms due to nutritional deprivation.
Eating disorders seriously impact someone’s health and can have severe and potentially life-threatening consequences, especially if left untreated.

“There’s a lot of resources available. It’s important to get access to those resources so family and friends know how to approach it. There’s things people can do to be supportive. Most people try to be supportive, but if you’re not well informed you could actually worsen the behaviors,” said Christensen.

You can find more resources at nationaleatingdisorders.org, including a helpline.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness week.