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Eating Disorders Threaten Student Health

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Lily Ellzey, Bastrop High School

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A deadly illness lurks right beneath the noses of students, lying in wait. Friends and family suffer in silence, often until it’s too late. Eating disorders are some of the most deadly mental illnesses, yet the majority of students at BHS are unaware of the impact they can have.

“To be honest, I don’t really know what they are,” junior Savannah Mendive said. “I mean, I’ve heard of them, but I couldn’t tell you the details.”

Despite the lack of awareness, students are at great risk. Over half of teenage girls and close to a third of teenage boys use unsafe methods in an attempt to control their weight.

“Eating disorders are very serious,” social worker Sarah Key said. “They can cause medical issues if they are not treated, or if sufferers are resistant to treatment.”

Struggling with body image can be a cause or trigger for an eating disorder, according to Key. Environmental factors and genetics also play a role in the development of these conditions.

“When I started to get sick, it was because I was overweight and didn’t like how I looked, even though I didn’t look that bad,” said Allisa (not her real name), an eating disorder sufferer. “People told me I looked fine, that I didn’t need to lose the weight, but hearing people smaller than me talking about dieting and how fat they felt told me otherwise.”

Self esteem and body image can be a problem for people of all ages but affects teenage girls the most.

“Teenage girls are at the highest risk of having an unhealthy relationship with food,” Key said. “I see that a lot, unfortunately.”

While not all diets necessarily precipitate a clinical eating disorder, it’s not uncommon for a diet to become unhealthy.

“It wasn’t a problem at first,” Allisa said. “I was just trying to lose a few pounds, but before I knew it I was only eating once a day and I couldn’t stop.”

More and more often, people at healthy weights who don’t need to lose any body fat are dieting. The commonly held ideal body type is smaller than is healthy.

“Sometimes it’s just not safe,” junior Willa Lyons said. “You see people who really don’t need to lose weight trying to lose weight anyway because they don’t want to be fat.”

Even more dangerous than outright lack of information is false stereotypes commonly associated with eating disorders, especially the notion that all who suffer from one are thin.

“When I think of eating disorders, I just think of someone who’s really skinny, like unhealthily so,” junior Andrew Hunn said.

However, the majority of eating disorder sufferers have never been underweight. The most common eating disorder in the United States is binge eating disorder, which often causes obesity, not low body fat. Additionally, almost all eating disorder related deaths are caused by heart failure due to electrolyte imbalance, not low body weight.

“The idea that you have to be really tiny to be sick with an eating disorder is really dangerous,” Allisa said. “I’ve been told by doctors that, despite having irregular heart rhythms and losing over half of my body weight, that I can’t have an eating disorder because I’m not underweight. It’s ridiculous.”

Eating disorders are almost invisible, but they’re still deadly. They aren’t often discussed, and this further isolates sufferers.

“Nobody talks about it,” Allisa said. “I was dropping weight really fast, talking about food all the time, and ditching my friends to exercise, just being really obvious I thought, but nobody said anything. It made me feel like either I wasn’t really sick, or that nobody cared enough to ask if I was okay.”

The lack of awareness of eating disorders is even more profound when it comes to otherwise specified feeding or eating disorder. The disorder, formerly known as eating disorder not otherwise specified, is over five times as common as anorexia nervosa and almost as deadly. Because of a lack of awareness, many who suffer from it do not receive treatment or even realize they are ill until it’s nearly too late.

“Not everyone fits into a box, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sick,” Lyons said.

Students concerned for themselves or others can contact Mrs. Key in the counseling office or can contact the National Eating Disorders Association by calling (800) 931-2237 or texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Read the original story here.

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