Feb. 24 marked the beginning of “National Eating Disorder Awareness Week,” a week designated to raise awareness about the issues and challenges surrounding eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and the opportunities for parents, teachers, coaches, and the community to create a healthy and positive dialogue about dieting, healthy eating, and body image. This year’s theme, “Everybody Knows Somebody,” acknowledges the more than 10 million women and 1 million men who have had, or are currently battling, an eating disorder.
Anorexia and bulimia are the two most widely known eating disorders, and they can have serious consequences and repercussions on the physical and emotional health of young men and women. Anorexia presents itself as self-starvation, so the body is denied the nutrients it needs to function properly. This potentially life threatening disorder can lead to abnormally slow heart rates, low blood pressure, reduction in bone density, dehydration and kidney failure.
Bulimia, on the other hand, is characterized by repeated patterns of binging and purging, which adversely affects the digestive system. If left untreated, bulimia can damage the esophagus and cause peptic ulcers and tooth decay. Bulimia can also lead to a severe electrolyte and chemical imbalance, which can be fatal.
A recent study released by the National Eating Disorder Association indicates that between 40-60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight. Nutritionists, psychologists, and eating disorder experts agree the best way to combat these concerns is to change the way we, as parents, teachers, and communities, talk about diet, standards or beauty, and our own body image.
I kept this in mind as Harper and I had our Academy Awards “red carpet recap” this week. I wanted to pay special attention to the women she picked for her “best dressed” list. I felt comfortable with the diversity of her choices, opting to give Jennifer Lawrence, who has been very vocal about her commitment to a healthy body weight and image, Octavia Spencer, and "Beasts of The Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis’ blue sparkle dress and puppy purse her best dressed nods.
She clearly shied away from women who appeared too frail or thin, and I hope this new standard of beauty will stay with her as she navigates her young adulthood. Demi Lovato, a young actress and singer who has been very open about her own struggles with bulimia and self-harm has been actively tweeting her support for the cause.
As she wrote last week, “models are thinner than 98 percent of America.” She called for us to change our own perceptions and expectations about the “ideal” body, and as a mother, it’s my responsibility to set a good example about my own relationship with food, exercise, and body image.
In that spirit, the next group of photos we looked at were from my Facebook feed, celebrating the women who completed either the Disney Princess half Marathon or New Orleans Marathon this weekend. While Harper was fascinated by the sparkles and tutus, she was also excited to know that some of her “friends” could run that far and that fast.
She confidently announced that she too would like to run that far one day. I’ll keep that in mind this week as I head to the gym and work on getting stronger and fitter, and not necessarily thinner.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is designed to be a starting point for a wider discussion about eating disorders, treatment, and body image issues. The NEDA website, www.Nationaleatingdisorders,org, is a great resource to “find help, give help, and be inspired,” because everybody knows somebody.
Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.com.