Eating Disorders - Know the Warning Signs

By Anita Romaniw

Did you know that women are twice as likely as men to diet even though men are more likely to be overweight, that a quarter of all pregnant women are actually distressed by weight gain, and that 85% of girls under the age of 12 worry about how they look?

The fact is - eating disorders have no bounds. Although the majority struggling with eating disorders are adolescent girls and young women - women and men of every age, race, financial situation, and occupation are also affected.

The most recent annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week highlighted the prevalence of anorexia, bulimia, compulsive eating and weight preoccupation among North Americans. This is no surprise given some of the latest statistics around body and weight issues: (the following statistics are based on Canadian research; but they closely parallel studies in the United States).

  • Up to 85% of girls under 12 worry "a lot" about the way they look. For boys, low self-esteem is associated with thinness; for girls it is fatness.

  • 6% of Canadian youths have abused steroids.

  • Strong links exist between parental dieting and encouraging children to diet.

  • Over 75% of female teens want to lose weight; many of these are already underweight.

  • Over 6 million Canadian women think they weigh too much, even those the majority are at a healthy weight.

  • 80% of Canadian women diet for appearance, not for health.

  • Many pregnant women struggle with issues around body image, weight and shape.

  • 70% of women and 35% of men are dieting at any given time.

  • Canadian children in grades three and four say they'd rather lose a parent, get cancer, or live through a nuclear war than be fat.

Eating disorders are not just about food, shape and weight. They involve problems with identity and self-concept that are influenced by a host of factors. Some of the warning signs of eating disorders include:

  • Refusal to eat
  • Preoccupation with food, weight and dieting
  • Denial of hunger
  • Guilt and shame about eating
  • Frequent binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Frequent use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Excessive exercise
  • Avoidance of friends and family
  • Perfectionism

For resources on how to prevent or support someone with an eating disorder, please call your local health unit or clinic. For information on treatment services, call your local Mental Health Centre. Also, check this website for resources:

Anita Romaniw, B.A.Sc., R.D.N., is the Community Nutritionist at the Upper Fraser Valley Health Unit, Abbotsford, British Columbia, (604) 864-3400. Related Articles: "Just another five pounds" nearly killed me Healthy body image Check out these resources on the web:

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada)

Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, Inc. (USA)

Eating Disorders Shared Awareness



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