HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

Eating Disorders Awareness Week: How to recognize the signs and get help

Mar 1, 2024, 1:43 PM | Updated: 3:01 pm

MURRAY — Carrie Jackson said when the pandemic hit, her daughter, Emma, started showing signs of an eating disorder.

“Things got kind of stressful and food became something that she could control,” she said.

Her daughter would get really cold and had a hard time concentrating, both signs of an eating disorder.

“She loves baking. And when she started to refuse to eat the beautiful and delicious things she was creating, that was actually a warning sign,” Carrie Jackson said.

 

A practicing therapist for more than 16 years, and a clinical manager for evolvedMD, Jackson knows full well that neither she, nor her family, is immune to mental illness.

“It can happen at any age for any person,” she said. “(My daughter) really did get robbed of a few years because of this disorder.”

It’s estimated that 30 million people in the United States struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Dr. Kristin Francis with Huntsman Mental Health Institute said eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are among the most lethal mental health conditions.

She’s treated patients as young as 9 years old.

“Little kids are comparing themselves to an unrealistic body image standard that’s just not even feasible for most of the population,” she said.

Eating disorders are caused by a combination of social, psychological, and biological factors. So, having a parent with an eating disorder puts you at higher risk for having one yourself, Francis said.

Warning signs of an eating disorder may include:

  • Changes in weight
  • Obsession with appearance
  • Secretive exercise
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Eliminating certain foods
  • Avoiding eating with others

“If you notice your child making negative comments about their body or their weight, ask questions, try to learn more,” Jackson said. “Look for factors that would leave them more susceptible to developing an eating disorder, like bullying or pressure from the media or their hobby to be thin, so that you can take them seriously.”

There are ways to help your child have a healthy relationship with food.

  • Avoid putting your child on a diet.
  • Don’t use the terms “good food” or “bad food.”
  • Teach your child to eat mindfully.
  • Stay away from body talk.

And remember that there is always hope.

“With quick intervention, early detection, kids get better, they bounce right back,” Francis said. “They’re super resilient.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact your healthcare provider. You can also call the eating disorders helpline at 888-375-7767.

University of Utah Health also has more information and resources.

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: How to recognize the signs and get help