Native Americans have been struggling with eating disorders for decades, but it has gone unseen and unheard in a community that already has multiple health epidemics.
That is why this week, February 24 to March 1, 2020, SNAHC is promoting National Eating Disorders Awareness Week – a week spreading awareness and fighting the myths and misunderstandings that surround anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and other eating disorders.
Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. In fact, national surveys estimate that 30 million people in the U.S. will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
While research specifically on Native communities and eating disorders is limited, a survey of 6,504 adolescents of all races found that 48% of Native American youth were attempting weight loss. Among these Native teenagers, nearly half of the girls and one-third of the boys had dieted in the past year, and 28% of girls and 21% of boys reported purging behavior.
Like many other cultures, food in the Native community plays a significant role in social gatherings and traditions. But since the arrival of colonization and western ideals, Natives’ once harmonious relationship with food has become an instrument of anxiety and isolation.
Diabetes, obesity, and mental health issues are well-known to be prevalent in Native communities, and in many ways they are related to eating disorders. Binge Eating Disorder can cause diabetes and obesity. Furthermore, eating disorders are often caused by stress, anxiety and depression, which can get even worse with the onset of an eating disorder.
However, with treatment and the right help it is possible to make a full recovery and the sooner someone who is struggling with an eating disorder gets the treatment they need the faster their recovery will be. It is important to learn the warning signs and how to seek help if you or someone you care about is struggling with unhealthy eating patterns. There are many signs and symptoms for an eating disorder, including but not limited to:
- Appears uncomfortable eating around others
- Constant focus on weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and eating habits
- Frequent dieting
- Extreme concern with body size and shape
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- Dizziness, especially upon standing
- Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
- Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
- Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder reach out to SNAHC’s behavioral health professionals to get the help and support you need to heal and recover.