February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month

WSU offers counseling for eating disorders and opportunity to become an advocate

REAGAN BROWN, Evergreen reporter

Editors note: The following content is centered around eating disorders which may be triggering for some. If you need support after reading this article call or text the NEDA hotline at 800-931-2237. 

February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month. There are both local and national organizations of people willing to aid you or your loved ones in the fight against eating disorders. Resources are available for those currently struggling and in recovery.  

February is dedicated to bringing awareness to all eating disorders and educating those on when to seek help. This month is an opportunity to shed light on those difficult conversations. 

“Often when I see a new client, their eating struggles begin with changing their eating patterns, often based on a diet,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Weinbender.

Around 10-20% of women and 4-10% of men in college have an eating disorder. If not you, students around you are struggling. Although eating disorders are usually a private and very personal matter, this disease has a serious impact on someone’s day-to-day life. This affects how they function, their social life, job, and self-care regimen, according to eatingrecoverycenter.com.

Weinbender said students should seek support and resources on campus such as medical and mental health check-ins, support services and food pantries. 

There is a stereotype that only girls are affected by eating disorders, she said.

“You can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them,” Weinbender said. 

Anyone and any body type can have an eating disorder. The three types of eating disorders that Weinbender treats the most are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, she said. 

There are many others such as AFID, which involves having reserves about texture color and taste of food. Eating disorders may arrive in many different forms, Weinbender said. 

Twenty million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives,” according to nationaleatingdisorders.org.

The first step on the road to recovery is recognizing an eating disorder within yourself or a loved one. The typical signs of an eating disorder are a change in weight (up or down), isolation and mood swings such as increased depression or anxiety, Weinbender said.

Other signs of an eating disorder are restriction of food, excessive exercise, food rituals, eating rapidly, and health-related factors such as stomach issues and low blood pressure, according to Weinbender.

Wendy Foulds Mathes, director of academic programs for the Eating Recovery Center, provides education and resources to college campuses. 

Nationally, 10,200 deaths are attributed to an eating disorder. That is one death every 52 minutes. This illness does not discriminate, she said, but rather invites every sex, race and ethnicity to renounce, she said. 

“Eating disorders are among the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric illnesses,” Mathes said. 

These can develop from both biological and environmental influences. Things like diet culture, fad diets, social media influence and genetics can have an effect on someone’s mental health, pushing them into disordered eating, she said.   

Treatment can look many ways. Keeping yourself informed and seeking professional help is a very important first steppingstone. After seeking professional help, the next steps will be evaluated on the severity of the condition. It may be continuous therapy, a team of psychologists, doctors, and therapists assisting in dietary and exercise needs, or more intensive care, said Shannon Kopp, event organizer and speaker for the SAY IT BRAVE foundation through the Eating Recovery Center.

“The time to get help is as soon as you are aware that it is impairing your functioning of life,” Kopp said. 

Eating Recovery Center is the nation’s leading mental health care system that is dedicated to eating disorders. They are hosting a Zoom webinar this year within their SAY IT BRAVE movement at 8 p.m. EST on Feb. 22 to bring awareness and tackle misconceptions about eating disorders. 

They will be discussing how to get help, how to start difficult conversations and more.  

SAY IT BRAVE is about “trying to create a world where it is no longer brave to talk about mental health, but it is normal,” Kopp said. 

Kopp encourages groups on campus to hold watch parties to ensure a close support system for those who may be struggling. The link to the watch party is listed on Eating Recovery Center’s website. 

WSU provides counseling and other services for those struggling with an eating disorder, there are also recommendations available for those wanting to be active advocates. 

All eating disorders are serious, Kopp said. Losing your passion for life or losing time for your passion because of your preoccupation with food is a good indicator that you should seek help. Building resilience against diet culture, intuitive eating and breaking your fear of foods are milestones in the road to recovery. 

“Recovery is rarely linear, just keep going. Celebrate every step of recovery no matter how big or small and treat yourself with compassion,” she said.