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Spring Break Fasting, Prom Dress Diets, and Wedding Boot-Camps: Triggers for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be devastating, isolating conditions that negatively impact individuals, families, and communities. While statistics about eating disorders show they are more prevalent than breast cancer or Alzheimer’s, eating disorders receive relatively little resources for research, prevention, and treatment.

One of the most consistent predictors of developing an eating disorder or disordered eating patterns is dieting itself. College students planning a spring break beach trip, high school girls who want to look perfect in their prom dress, and brides-to-be planning for that day when they are the center of attention, often have one thing in common. They engage in excessive diets and punishing exercise regimens to look their best for that special event. The question is, what happens after the event? Usually, the diets are dropped, and the weight is regained. But, the problem is that in many cases, the disordered eating, food restriction, rigid control, excessive concern with weight and shape, and sometimes even purging, continue after the special event and the seeds for an eating disorder are planted.

People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery. According to the National Association of Eating Disorders, there are many health consequences to eating disorders. In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, which results in serious medical consequences. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.

Communities that are fully informed about eating disorders, including how to recognize, intervene and prevent disordered eating can help limit the devastation caused by these conditions. Individuals struggling with eating disorders need community-based support to help foster prevention and recovery. More and more retailers address this issue. One way is to not use traditional sizing on prom, homecoming, and wedding dresses. Some customers focus more on the size on the label rather than how the dress looked when they tried it on in the dressing room. As a result some stores have come up with a unique and customer-focused solution. Dresses are now sorted into size categories using names instead of numbers. One girl looks for dresses that will fit her labeled “Spectacular” while a person with a different body shape would look for dresses labeled “Dramatic”. This new method allows shoppers to be focused on how they feel wearing a dress opposed to what a measuring tape tells them.

Local mental health programs are looking to address eating disorder treatment as well. LivingRite, The Center for Behavioral Health is currently providing a Specialized Clinic to treat eating disorders. With locations in Pingree Grove/Hampshire and Sycamore/DeKalb, IL., the clinic provides individuals the opportunity to obtain specialized, individualized treatment in the area of eating. LivingRite focuses on evidence-based practice utilizing the study of psychology, behavior, family studies, body image and nutrition to address clients’ needs in the areas of eating disorders and obesity. The Clinic Specialists have extensive training, supervision, certification, licensure, and experience in providing evidence-based interventions to address specific needs. Services are delivered in a private offices setting on an outpatient basis.

Being aware of what you can do to help prevent eating disorders is important. Discourage the idea that a particular diet, weight, or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment, Remember, we all need to eat a balanced variety of foods. Become a critical viewer of the media and its messages about self-esteem and body image, be aware of advertisements or articles in magazines that make people feel bad about body shape or size. If you think someone has an eating disorder, express your concerns in a direct, caring manner. Gently but firmly encourage the person to seek trained professional help. Finally, be a model of healthy self-esteem and body image. Recognize that others pay attention and learn from the way you talk about yourself and your body. Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation. Choose to value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents, and character. Avoid letting the way you feel about your body weight and shape determine the course of your day. Embrace the natural diversity of human bodies and celebrate your body’s unique shape and size.

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