The state of New Mexico is in desperate need of education and resources for eating disorders treatment and prevention!
Students in New Mexico schools get very little education or information about eating disorders. However, many people in our state struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive over-eating.
What is offered in health class is often nutritional information that is peppered with warnings about resulting health issues from eating foods with sugar or fats. Foods are often labeled as “healthy” or “unhealthy” and emphasis is placed on the problems related to obesity.
Recently, I asked my son who is currently a high school senior in the Albuquerque public school system, what he had learned about nutrition and eating disorders. “Almost nothing, he replied. I know that pizza is a bad food because it is greasy and bad for your health. I feel guilty every time I order it at school, but I like it.”
Our clinics are full of children and adolescents, who, like my son, having heard this information, are already trying to avoid eating foods with sugar and fat, or feeling guilty about liking these foods. Research has shown that food restriction or deprivation causes bingeing on the ‘bad’ foods. In addition, research shows that dieting is a gateway behavior for all the eating disorders.
It appears that the health issues resulting from dieting, purging, over-exercising, and laxative abuse to manage weight, which characterize anorexia and bulimia, are either skimmed or de-emphasized. This message our young people receive reinforces our country’s obsession with weight loss and intensifies fears of weight gain. Not surprisingly, eating disorders are on the rise.
Several years ago, our clinic experienced a rash of referrals from school counselors and parents whose boys, many on the autism spectrum, had full-blown anorexia or bulimia. Assessments with these children revealed that their focus on eliminating sugary and fatty foods stemmed from informational warnings they had received in health class at school or by reading well-meaning anti-obesity posters hung in the halls.
Educating students about the dangers of dieting, labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”, and weight prejudice is imperative during this critical period of development. It is during this developmental phase that students are exploring their identities, learning to be in relationships, developing critical thinking skills, and place the utmost importance on the views and acceptance of peers. Without accurate information, proper understanding about nutrition, and the dangers of dieting during this vulnerable period of life, our students will continue to generate and develop these life-threatening illnesses.
– Holly Finlay, MA, LPCC, CEDS
Clinical Director of Eating Disorders Treatment Center