On Your Health

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Signs of Eating Disorders

by Sara Barry, licensed behavioral practitioner for INTEGRIS

Eating disorders affect nearly 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States, but can often go unnoticed. Sara Barry, a licensed behavioral practitioner for INTEGRIS, shares some signs to watch for to help recognize an eating disorder in those around you.
Hello, my name is Sara Barry. In recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I am going to be speaking to you today about eating disorders. Increased awareness of eating disorders and available treatment resources can help you recognize the disorder and help yourself or a friend, family member or coworker seek help. The National Eating Disorder Association defines an eating disorder as extreme emotions, attitudes and behavior surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males. Not everyone with an eating disorder is remarkably thin. Most people with bulimia appear to be a normal body weight, which is one of the reasons why it is often easy for people with this condition to hide their condition. People with bulimia often "binge," or eat a large amount of food, and then "purge" it by vomiting, taking laxatives or some other behavior meant to undo the binging. Symptoms of this disorder include
  • repeated binge eating,
  • frequently trying to get rid of calories through vomiting, fasting, laxatives, over-exercising or other ways,
  • feeling out of control over how much you eat,
  • or feeling ashamed of your appearance or overly fearful about gaining weight.
Bulimia can cause serious physical health problems such as dehydration, esophagus tears, tooth decay and osteoporosis. There are different effective treatments for bulimia and other eating disorders including talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Compulsive exercise can often accompany bulimia, as well as anorexia. So how can you tell the difference between healthy exercise and compulsive or over-exercising?
  1. You exercise for the wrong reasons. Let's say you ate a huge meal and you feel guilty about it and the only way you can reconcile it in your mind is to hit the pavement and spend a few hours burning off the extra calories that you ate.
  2. Exercise becomes a compulsive behavior. You are often driven by body dissatisfaction or obsessions about your weight.
  3. Your desire to exercise completely trumps your other commitments, which can result in canceled plans with friends or even exercising when you are ill.
  4. You feel extreme guilt when you miss a workout. You double your efforts to make up for it the next time that you exercise.
If you think that you or someone you care about may have an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise, in recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we encourage you to consider taking the first step to healing by taking INTEGRIS Mental Health's free, anonymous online screening at integrismentalhealth.com. Thank you.

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