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    Help available tackling eating disorders, improving nutrition

    Help available tackling eating disorders, improving nutrition

    Courtesy Photo | “Members of the military I have worked with have developed their eating disorders...... read more read more

    By Bernard S. Little and Ben Horn
    Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

    Eating Disorder Month is observed during February, and on its heels is National Nutrition Month, celebrated in March.

    “There is not one main cause to an eating disorder,” explained Army Capt. Ryan Farley, a registered dietitian and assistant chief of food operations at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He provides care to eating disorder patients at the medical center because of his experience working with eating disorders prior to his commission in the Army.

    The focus of Eating Disorder Month is to increase the public’s knowledge about eating disorders, which impacts an estimated 9 percent of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, who will have an eating disorder during their lifetime, according to associations focused on helping people overcome their eating disorders.

    National Nutrition Month highlights the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

    No one main cause

    “I would say that there is no one main cause for an eating disorder,” Farley stated. “Every individual eating disorder can come up due to a variety of different reasons, including trauma, abuse, harassment, food insecurity, medical issues, or unrealistic/unjust/societal expectations. Environmental reasons can also play a major role in the development of an eating disorder,” he added.

    “Members of the military I have worked with have developed their eating disorders for a few different reasons, but many came about due to trying to continue to keep within [military] standard[s],” Farley continued.

    “Being a part of the military has been a dream for many [service members], both enlisted and officer, so many will put their bodies through torture in order to continue to live that dream. Unfortunately, many of these [service members] aren’t helped by the fact they receive either lack of support or unwarranted verbal harassment/abuse from members of their leadership chain, which only furthers that manifestation of their eating disorders. For some, they chose to bear down and suffer to continue to live their dream, but for others, their eating disorders get to the point where they need to remove themselves from the situation in order to better themselves,” he shared.

    Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, and orthorexia are eating disorders Farley said he encounters among the patients he treats.

    According to the abstract of the study, “Trends in the Incidence of Eating Disorders Among Active Component Service Members, 2017 to 2021,” released by the Defense Health Agency (DHA), “From 2017 through 2021, a total of 2,454 active component U.S. military service members received incident diagnoses for one of the following eating disorders: anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED), or other/unspecified eating disorder. As more service members are affected by such disorders, greater adverse outcomes to mental health, physical fitness, and military performance may be expected. These findings reveal the need for prevention and treatment of eating disorders to reduce their unique burden among military members.”

    Before becoming the assistant chief of food operations at Walter Reed, Farley served as the chief of Outpatient Nutrition at Walter Reed, and prior to his 2021 Army commission, he worked at an eating disorder center in his native New York.

    “I was able to bring that prior work experience with me to [Walter Reed], where I have worked with many of the eating disorder patients,” he said.

    A mental health issue

    “As much as it deals with eating, at its core, an eating disorder is a mental health issue, so the same stigmas that exist with the plethora of other mental struggles [service members] deal with can exist with eating disorders,” Farley explained. “Control is such a huge part of many eating disorders, so reaching out for help can be difficult for many. But I can say, once that first step is taken, many of the [service members] I’ve worked with are dedicated to do their best to try and better themselves, which is positive.”

    Farley’s assessment is backed up by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which states, “There is a commonly held misconception that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder.”

    The NIMH adds, “Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Researchers are using the latest technology and science to better understand eating disorders.”

    Farley stated that resources at Walter Reed to assist people face their eating disorders include the Outpatient Nutrition Clinic, which appointments are on non-referral basis, and the Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic.
    “We have some really good providers who will work through eating disorders with patients, along with offering an eating disorder support group run by the clinic,” said Farley.

    He explained treatment varies depending on the degree of the eating disorder the individual is experiencing. Treatment can include outpatient and/or inpatient care. The NIMH states that treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:

    • Individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy
    • Medical care and monitoring
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Medications

    “In simplest of terms, my hope would be for people to take their eating and nutrition seriously,” Farley continued. “Nutrition often can take a back seat due to time, work and life, but what we eat and how we eat is vital to reaching many of the health goals we set for ourselves. I think it is important to address that everyone’s relationship with food is different.
    Things we sometimes take for granted or do so effortlessly, can be very difficult for others. The more understanding and acceptance we have towards everyone’s eating style and struggles, the less stigma we will have surrounding things like eating disorders.”

    “Most people won’t understand what someone with an eating disorder is going through, but if you are struggling, there are avenues to get help and providers who will believe and take your claims seriously,” Farley added. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Likewise, if you know of someone or have a child or other family member with a suspected eating disorder, reaching out for advice or guidance is also not a bad thing as well.”

    The Walter Reed Outpatient Nutrition Clinic can be reached at 301-295-4065, and the Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic can be reached at 301-295-0500.

    If you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat at In life-threatening situations, call 911.



    Date Taken: 02.28.2024
    Date Posted: 02.28.2024 12:36
    Story ID: 464897
    Location: US

    Web Views: 43
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