Did you know at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S? Worldwide, 70 million people are considered to have an eating disorder. Commonly, if someone has an eating disorder, it is likely that person may also have another mental illness such as depression or anxiety. This is termed as comorbidity or the co-existence of two or more disorders.
The three main types of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-Eating Disorder. Let’s discuss the differences between these three:
- Anorexia Nervosa is described as persistent restriction of food intake resulting in significantly low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, persistent dissatisfaction with the way one’s body weight and shape are, and a lack of seriousness of underweight body consequences. Anorexia often leads to osteoporosis (deterioration of bones), bone fractures, interruption on menstrual cycle, and brain tissue loss, irregular or slow heartbeat, dry skin and lips, muscle loss, fatigue.
- Bulimia is described as the recurring episodes of consuming large quantities of food and followed by self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives. The main difference between Anorexia and Bulimia is that in Bulimia, there is a purging factor whereas Anorexia doesn’t have that. Bulimia can be categorized as a sense of lack of control over what and how much one is eating, recurrent episodes of binge eating, recurrent purging practices such as misuse of laxatives, vomiting, fasting, or excessive exercise. The binge eating and purging behaviors occur at least once a week for three months. Bulimia can result in cardiac arrhythmia(improper beating of the heart), metabolic deficiencies, and digestive disorders.
- Binge-Eating Disorder key factors are recurrent and continuous binge eating episodes which are associated with eating large amounts of food yet not being hungry, eating until uncomfortably full, and feeling disgusted with oneself or guilty for overeating. Some other factors are distress when binge eating and an absence of purging behaviors.
The most common eating disorder in the United States is Binge-Eating Disorder, and it affects 3.5% of adult women, 2% of adult men, and 1.6% of adolescents. The risk factors of Binge-Eating Disorder are weight gain, fatigue, low self-esteem, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, kidney problems or failure, and osteoarthritis. People with this disorder will usually eat alone because they are embarrassed by how much they eat in a short amount of time.
Family dynamics can be a possible reason for developing an eating disorder. Families who are disengaged, unfriendly, and hostile have been linked to eating disorders. Also parents who are competitive and controlling are more likely to have children who have an eating disorder. Some treatments commonly used for Eating Disorders are Family Therapies and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Family Therapies are when individuals within a family learn healthier ways to interact with each other and resolve conflicts while usually consulting a therapist. Likewise, with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a therapist and patient work to try and dissolve the thought process behind the negative self image eating disorders are associated with and alter unwanted behavior patterns. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also used to treat mood disorders such as depression, and it has been the optimal treatment choice for people with Bulimia and Binge-Eating Disorder.
If you know someone who you think might have an eating disorder, tell them about your concerns in a caring way, and educate yourself on eating disorders to help prepare you for the conversation. The person might feel embarrassed or ashamed, so don’t talk in a negative way about their disorder. Being in a comfortable environment where the person feels safe might also be beneficial. The environment needs to have a calm and open presence to it. Having an eating disorder is a serious mental illness, and if you think you or someone you love may have one, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. There are seriously damaging consequences to having an eating disorder such as bone loss, irregular heart rhythm, kidney failure, and extreme weight loss or gain depending on which eating disorder behaviors you exhibit.
So remember, people come in all shapes and sizes, and being skinny does not define who you are. It is important to have a healthy mindset of what bodies should look like and spread that on to future generations.
Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741
Available 24/7, 365 days a year, this organization helps people with eating disorders and other mental health issues by connecting callers with trained crisis volunteers who will provide confidential advice, support, and referrals if needed.
Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (formerly the Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association): 1-617-558-1881
This organization offers education, information, referrals to clinicians who specialize in eating disorders, support groups, and additional services for people with eating disorders in the New England area. It also offers information about nationwide treatment centers and is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday–Friday
Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664
This hotline is available to people worldwide who need a referral to an Overeaters Anonymous support meeting in their area. Contrary to popular belief, Overeaters Anonymous is not just for people who are concerned about eating too much; it is also intended for those who have anorexia, bulimia, food addiction, or any other type of eating disorder. If you are reluctant to attend an in-person meeting or are not geographically near one, its website offers you the option to participate in an online- or telephone-based support group.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330
Currently serving people in the United States, the hotline operates Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon. Trained hotline volunteers offer encouragement to those having problems around eating or binging, support for those who “need help getting through a meal,” and assistance to family members who have concerns that their loved one might have an eating disorder.
Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673
This is a hotline dedicated to serving anyone in crisis. Sometimes, people with eating disorders might feel so full of shame or self-hatred that they contemplate hurting themselves. If this is true for you, this hotline offers nationwide assistance and support from volunteers specifically trained in crisis intervention. You can talk to someone day or night about anything that’s troubling you, even if it’s not related to an eating disorder. You can also call if you need referrals to eating disorder treatment centers.
“To meditate is to live simply and honestly in the world as it is,” Jonathan C. Smith.
With increased awareness about the importance of meditation and mindfulness there have been multiple online applications that have been launched. The following are just a few examples of the Best Meditation Apps of 2018 according to, healthline.com, The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, and MINDBODY. The best part about these apps is that they are a finger’s touch away.
If you do not prefer to use technology to mediate you can borrow meditation books from the library or attend yoga or other workout events that are hosted at local libraries, community centers or gyms. These options are usually free of charge. But the main take away is to try and find time for yourself to meditate and focus on your overall wellbeing.
Pause. You are already here, why not try some mindfulness?
Here is a basic meditation for beginners guide from mindful.org:
- Get comfortable and prepare to sit still for a few minutes. After you stop reading this you are going to simply focus on your own natural inhaling and exhaling.
- Focus on your breath. Find where you breath the most.
- Follow your breath for two minutes. Inhale and exhale …
Hopefully that short exercise was able to help you focus on your breathing and practice mindfulness.
Now that you have been provided with a small introduction on what tools you need to start meditation here is some literature on the effectiveness of meditation and what progress has been made:
The World Health Organization has a comprehensive mental health plan.
“The action plan calls for changes. It calls for a change in the attitudes that perpetuate stigma and discrimination that have isolated people since ancient times, and it calls for an expansion of services in order to promote greater efficiency in the use of resources.”
Breaking Taboo has taken that step for change. Breaking Taboo is a nonprofit organization that aims to break the stereotype, or taboo, surrounding Mental Health and Suicide. Our intention is to educate, share, and encourage open conversations about this topic. We believe that in order to solve a problem, we must focus on the root cause. In order to save lives, we must kill the silence. In order to kill the silence we must break the taboo.
Breaking Taboo is one of multiple organizations that have started taking an initiative to create change. Aside from taking initiative the next step is conducting research on what the effectiveness of meditation is on health.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has research that shows the effectiveness of meditation on health conditions such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders and pain. For anxiety, depression and insomnia, there was a 2014 literature review that suggested that mindfulness meditation programs show moderate evidence of improving anxiety and depression.
Meditation and Psychiatry is being studied after millions of people are coming to the conclusion based on their personal experiences that meditation may enhance mental health. In order to understand how meditation might be therapeutic, investigators have to examine its effect on a variety of complex psychophysiological functions and behaviors. How does decreased stress and hypertension relate to decreased autonomic arousal or reactivity? The results of imaging studies show increased gray matter in areas associated with attention suggested neural plasticity (“the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life”) with meditation.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) “is a test that detects abnormalities in your brain waves, or in the electrical activity of your brain.” EEGs and other imaging studies have shown changes in EEG patterns and regional cerebral blood flow with meditation. McGee has conducted extensive research and his take away message is, “Despite the substantial literature suggesting meditation’s benefits for a variety of psychiatric and medical conditions and for enhancing wellbeing and functioning, questions remain regarding the nature of meditation’s efficacy due in part to methodological problems, limitations in study designs, and the need for further research.”
The beauty of meditation is that there are no safety concerns or side effects. The only limitation is if you have a physical limitation which is a discussion point with your primary care provider.
Jasneelam Kaur, recently relocated to Los Angeles. Health educator, foodie and traveler, currently spending time enjoying the simple things in life.
For too long mow, mental health in this nation has gone overlooked—by the government, by the media, and by schools.
And for the longest time, I have posed the question: what will it take for the leaders of this country to step up and deliver to schools a curriculum pertaining to a matter just as crucial to a person’s well-being as physical health? Are not mental health conditions just as incurable as cancer and just as harsh on the body and the spirit? A condition like Bipolar 1 Disorder, for example, consumes you whole. It is a debilitating, crippling disease. Depression can lead to death at any given random moment in a person’s life. The “risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general population” and about “2/3 of the people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths.”
It is time to educate our nation. Education can lead to the prevention of suicide. Why? Because empathy evolved out of understanding can save lives.
On July 1, 2018, cries for mental health education being implemented into school curriculum were both heard and answered. Both the states of New York and Virginia have become “the first two states to enact laws requiring mental health education in schools.” CNN stated, “Virginia’s law mandates that mental health education be incorporated into physical education and health curricula for ninth- and 10th-graders.” New York law has gone a step further, implementing mental health into the curriculum for not only middle schools and high schools, but elementary schools as well.
Amidst all the school shootings and the suicides of two well-known celebrities just this past year – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and most recently the comedic actor Brody Stevens – it is a relief to know New York and Virginia are stepping up.
According to CNN, New York law recognizes that mental health is an “integral part of our overall health and should be a part of health education in public schools.” This recognition doesn’t come as much of a surprise if one knew that back in 2015, the NY law had written that ‘90 percent of youth who die by suicide suffer from depression or another diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death’.”
We must be proactive and follow New York and Virginia’s lead and equip school teachers with the education of mental health, or if that’s too complicated a task to master, bring in some specialists to teach these kids about one of the most troubling epidemics that has survived centuries and outlasted millions beyond millions of people. And for those struggling with their mental health, they will be given a better chance at seeking help before bad gets worse and worse gets unbearable.
Maybe if I had learned about mental health when I was 11, I would’ve realized when a good friend of mine began to struggle with depression and not decrypt her moodiness as strange and write her off as “unfun” to be around. She wouldn’t have had to suffer alone.
Not only will bringing mental health education into our schools enlighten our students about the various mental conditions that exist, but that, paired with personal experiences shared by others, can help turn the tide, bringing struggling youth out of isolation and into a warm, supportive environment.
Teachers aware of the issues they face as educators in respect to mental health have the desire to bring the topic into the classroom but lack the resources to do so. Following an incident with one of her students, a special education teacher at a H.S. in Chesterfield County, VA realized “the…resources available to educators in her school and district…designed to help students who may be grappling with mental illness was…inadequate. The growing crisis around students’ mental health, and the scarcity of available care, has long been a concern of many educators and health professionals. Interest among lawmakers, however, is a relatively new trend, sparked primarily by the spate of mass shootings.” And instead of the government implementing a “systemic approach to helping students with their mental health issues”, they focus on “crisis response.” Perhaps if the government pushed schools to educate students about mental health to begin with, there would be a less amount of crises to respond to.
I’m not saying it would be an easy process—incorporating mental health education into school curriculum. For one, most educators don’t have a background in psychology. And the responsibility of being an educator itself is already taxing. Funds would be needed to go towards instructing educators about mental health and wellness. Teachers would need the extra time to learn about the subject—time they may not have with papers to grade and families of their own. Why not then make mental health education an additional certification an educator can earn on his or her own? So that those teachers who are certified in mental health education, just like those certified in literacy or special education, can teach a class solely centered upon mental health? Any education of the overlooked subject would be a vast improvement from the complete absence of the topic now.
Joe O’ Callagthan, the head of Stamford Public Schools social work department in Connecticut, helped lead a district-wide effort to overhaul the school’s mental health program “after three students from three different high schools took their own lives in 2014.” By 2017, the district “had expanded the number of evidence-based services for students from zero to four, implemented district-wide trauma and behavioral health training and supports for staff, and integrated community and state resources and services for students.” This program indicates a shift from reactive to proactive and with the progress the district claims to be making, it could very well encourage other school districts to follow suit.
Education on mental health, however, should not only fall on the shoulders of teachers and schools. Every child with a mental health issue needs a strong support group comprised of a parent, a teacher, and a mental health professional. But as loving a parent might be, he or she may not always be willing to explore the possibility of mental illness when it comes to his or her child. “Concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of certain medications…cost or logistical challenges of treatment might…prevent parents from seeking care for a child who has a suspected mental illness. Mental health-focused organizations like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) strive to break that trend and open up the mental health dialogue. They offer free services, providing programs and classes to the public, educating and connecting people with mental illness and family members of people with mental illnesses, offering them the support they may not get elsewhere.
Breaking down walls and stressing the importance of mental health in the classroom and in the home could not only change a student’s outlook on life, it could save their life. It can empower a child to approach an adult about their problem, knowing they are not alone and that there is a way to fix whatever it is they are going through. Mental health education could mean prevention and eradicate the need for a rescue mission.
Theresa Nguyen, VP at Mental Health America, states, “We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.”
Crystal is an ambassador for Breaking Taboo and a public speaker for NAMI. She is also a writer and advocates awareness for mental illness through education, and to bring hope, inspiration, and empowerment to people of all ages living with debilitating mental disorders. She aims to show others that no matter how dark or painful the journey, a better life is always ahead.