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Silent killers: Health experts urge everyone to know the signs of eating disorders

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Health officials are calling on the public to be aware of the signs of eating disorders as new research highlights the prevalence of these conditions.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, almost one in ten people in the United States struggles with an eating disorder, while the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says the global prevalence of eating disorders rose from 3.4% to 7.8% between 2000 and 2018.

The organization says these disorders are among the deadliest mental health issues, alongside opioid use disorder.

Dr. Ashley Karpinski is the executive director of behavioral health at CVS as well as a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor. Karpinski describes eating disorders as complex conditions that can affect every aspect of a person’s health.

Anxiety is often a contributing factor, Karpinski says, and during the coronavirus pandemic, people looked for ways to exert control in a time of uncertainty and isolation.

“One of the things they could control was food and their body weight,” Karpinski said.

While anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are among the most common forms of disordered eating, Karpinski cautions that it is not always possible to identify someone with an eating disorder based on their appearance.

Instead, Karpinski recommends watching for changes in behaviors such as avoiding social eating, obsessing over body weight, or revolving their life around food. To help combat eating disorders, she suggests changing how we perceive ourselves.

Karpinski advocates for “body neutrality,” where individuals aim for self-acceptance rather than striving for an idealized body shape or weight. Individuals can break free from damaging thought patterns and behaviors by accepting their bodies and focusing on nutrition for health and strength.

“What happens when we start to think about body neutrality and not have to feel ‘hot’ or ‘gorgeous’ or ‘skinny’ or ‘fat’? How do we get to a place of self-acceptance? That’s where our power is for all genders and all races — knowing we have a true strength in our bodies — and nutrition is about powering that strength and looking a certain way.”

Karpinski also emphasizes the importance of being mindful of social media’s influence on body image. She says that everyone has a unique genetic makeup affecting their metabolism and food relationship and that individuals should strive to make informed choices rather than conform to unrealistic beauty standards.

“We often tend to think that’s what we should look like. We all have a very different genetic makeup, whether that is culture, gender, athleticism…all of that plays into how our body metabolizes food and what relationship we have with it,” Karpinski said.

To find help for someone with an eating disorder, call the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders helpline at 888-375-7767 or visit their website.

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