In 2008, according to Science Daily, sixty-five percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 reported having disordered eating behaviors.  Disordered eating is a precursor to  eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia and includes such tactics as banishing carbohydrates, skipping meals and in some cases extreme dieting.  Disordered eating is almost always a result of emotional and physical distress, and I can only imagine that this percentage has climbed in the past year.

All of us have suffered from a form of disordered eating.  Whether it’s skipping breakfast to ensure you don’t surpass your already low calorie goal of the day or working out for 3 hours at a time, females have long struggled to balance healthy lifestyle with losing weight.  What makes women more susceptible to this kind of behavior?  Some reports claim the messaging the media distributes affects women’s body image more than men’s, some reports claim that disordered eating is a result of genetic influencers.  Whatever the cause, when disordered eating crosses the line to anorexia and other serious eating disorders, it can sometimes become life threatening.

In college, I became a victim of disordered eating.  In a college environment, where everyone around me was, in my opinion, much thinner and prettier and wealthier than I was, my survival tactic became starving myself to achieve what I thought they all had:  happiness with their bodies and lives.  However, I think my own issues with disordered eating began long before that, as they often do begin in adolescent girls.  From only eating a pretzel at lunch in middle school to working out outside at noon in the dead of summer to “sweat more and lose more weight”, my own struggles with self-image were deep-seated and certainly not going away anytime soon, regardless of who I surrounded myself with.

As a result of my unhealthy disordered eating patterns, I managed to lose 30 pounds in less than a month’s time.  Many people, myself included, thought this was a good thing.  It’s not like I didn’t have extra bulk to lose.  However, any drastic weight loss of this nature has an incredible and lasting impact on your body.  Drastic weight loss in an unhealthy fashion can lead to a disruption of a female’s menstrual cycle, skin discoloration, lack of energy and enthusiasm, restlessness and insomnia, dizziness, fainting and headaches, none of which are pleasant experiences.  Although these seem like they might be no big deal, additional side effects of crash dieting and unhealthy patterns include nutritional deficiencies as well as vital organ damage.

The most unfortunate thing I found when I was struggling through my own period of disordered eating was the praise I would get over how “good” I looked from people that may or may not have known what was going on.  Since those of us that struggle with these issues don’t think the same way most other people do, you immediately begin to think, “How can everyone I love think this is a bad thing?  Look at all the positive attention my body is receiving for once in my life.  No one has EVER talked to me like this before-if I keep doing this, imagine how many more people will think I’m beautiful.”

As women, we need to watch what we say around our female and male friends, and make sure we’re not encouraging behaviors that can become dangerous for our bodies and our overall health.  I think what bothers me the most as I struggle through these issues and think back to my own battles with disordered eating are the comments people make.  Comments from a skinny friend or acquaintance like, “Oh, I can’t possibly finish this huge salad” (when my meal is much larger, and I’m practically done), really cut deep for those of us that struggle with food.   I’ve even been hurt on shopping trips where someone will pick up a shirt or a dress, not realizing it’s my size, and say, “Wow, I like this, but it’s WAY too big for me.”

What we say has the power to really hurt one another.  For those of us suffering through disordered eating issues, these comments take a different shape in our head.  My advice for all women is to watch what you say around your friends and family.  We truly want to celebrate your body with you, but sometimes, we just can’t get past our own hang-ups to take your words for what they are to you and not what we think they mean about us.   There are a lot of issues we all deal with internally, and by being a bit more sensitive to how we’re handling them in our groups of friends, we might be able to save someone from continuing unhealthy habits.  We can’t save everyone, but by being a supportive and positive female friend, we might just be able to convince one another that there are healthy ways to achieve our goals.

For more information on eating disorders, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association.  Also, if you or someone you know struggles with an eating disorder, please reach out for help by calling 1-800-931-2237.