The holiday season can bring on stress and pain for those who struggle with eating disorders. We discuss eating disorders and the behaviors that characterize them, as well as how to find help for yourself or a loved one who may need it.
WBUR will be talking about eating and health as part of a new podcast called "Food, We Need To Talk," which explores how we can improve our relationship with food. The podcast comes out next week, but you can listen to a preview here.
Dr. Holly Peek, Assistant Medical Director of the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital.
Jessie Felber, a masters student studying Social Work at the University of New Hampshire. She also recovered from anorexia nervosa.
What signs should you look out for in recognizing an eating disorder?
Holly Peek: "With eating disorders, often there can be a lot of shame and secrecy involved. So it can be often hard for loved ones to see what's going on. But if you have a loved one who seems like they're avoiding eating with others, they may not be enjoying doing the same things they used to be doing ... food and socializing with eating can be a very common thing in our culture; people with an eating disorder might start avoiding those things. Or if you see a loved one have a significant amount of weight loss in a short amount of time, that could certainly be a warning sign as well."
What can we do about promoting positive body image, especially among young people?
Jessie Felber: "The reason that I choose to be open about my story and my struggle is because I think the reality is there are a lot more people that have struggled with eating disorders or their relationship with their body, but we just aren't talking about it. Some of the media that's thrown at us starting from a very young age is so detrimental, but if we're not creating a space for kids to be able to come to adults or people they trust in their life to talk about how ridiculous these images are, then we're not going to be able to show kids that, really, the expectations they may have for their body aren't healthy.
"I think one of the best ways to help create that space as an adult is to really be looking at your own relationship with food and your body. So making sure that when you're around children — or anyone — that you're really keeping that diet talk limited; that you're talking about food as something that is a fuel for our bodies, something that has so many benefits. Too often food can be labeled as good or bad, when the reality is food is meant to be enjoyed. It serves a purpose for us. It's the energy that that gives us what we need to live lives. And so I think that if we can use more compassionate language about food and our bodies around children, that that could be a good way to welcome that conversation."
Where can people go to find help?
Holly Peek: "It often takes a team of professionals to diagnose and treat what's going on in a lot of these patients, but I think the best place to start is with a primary care physician. And I think that for a couple reasons. Number one is most people have a primary care physician. All kids should have a pediatrician, and a pediatrician can make sure a person is medically stable. A pediatrician and primary care physician could also have resources to refer to a psychiatrist and a psychologist. If the patient needs more help in other areas, needs medications — and everyone needs regular therapy, too. A primary care physician can also refer to a dietitian, because I think dietary counseling is so important also in the treatment of this illness."
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) - Hotline: 1-800-931-2237
Overeaters Anonymous - 1-505-891-2664
Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association - Connect line: 888-350-4049
Cambridge Eating Disorder Center: 888.900.CEDC (2332)
This segment aired on December 17, 2019.