Self-Harm and Eating Disorders

TW: Self-harm, eating disorders

As temperatures drop lower, the rate by which one begins piling on warm cozy clothes gets higher. Long sleeves, layers, sweaters, comfy pants, you will see people wearing these items of clothing wherever you go. It’s pretty much all stores even sell at this time of year! You probably have your reasons for enjoying this wardrobe change, but some preteens, teens, young adults, and even grown adults may enjoy this time of year for a different reason. All that clothing makes it easier for those struggling with self-harming behavior to conceal the visual aspects from being noticed by others. There are also many forms of these behaviors to look out for.

The first self-harming behaviors we will talk about involve more direct means by which to inflict injury on oneself. More common types of actions that have been observed in teens and young adults are cutting oneself, burning oneself, punching oneself, hitting oneself, or banging one’s head on things. Much of the time, people that do these things do not have intentions to commit suicide. However, if the behavior escalates suicide or serious injuries may occur. All of these injuries can be covered up by long sleeves, pants, and hats. These articles of clothing may not seem at all unusual during this time of year, but if those clothing choices progress into warmer weather it may be a warning sign of self-injurious behavior. Other warning signs that may be observed are social withdrawal, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and/or self-loathing. Some things to watch out for are unexplained cuts, bruises, and burns, as well as things going missing around the house such as knives, box cutters, scissors, lighters, and matches. If you notice your child or loved one being more secretive or possessive over their area of the house than noticeable, these may also be indicators that something is not right.

More indirect forms of self-harm that can be temporarily masked by cold weather clothing are eating disorders. This includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and excessive exercise. Anorexia nervosa involves restricting food intake so that the body burns more calories than is being consumed. Bulimia nervosa involves binging and purging on food so that one may expel the calories they ate to also be in a calorie deficit. It may not occur to many, but it is possible to exercise too much. If someone is excessively exercising, they will also be in a calorie deficit and, in turn, lose weight. These behaviors are considered self-harm because one does not allow their body to receive the nutrients that they need. This can lead to organ damage. Bulimia can also lead to the deterioration of throat tissue and teeth due to the amount of stomach acid being ejected from the body during purging. The biggest warning sign of anorexia is noticeable food restriction. If your child or loved one repeatedly says things like “I’m not hungry” or declines to eat, they may be suffering from anorexia. If you notice your child or loved one consistently excusing themselves to go to the bathroom directly after meals, they may be purging and suffering from bulimia. Some warning signs that all three of these eating disorders have in common are weight loss, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal. Weight loss may be hard to detect under the guise of large clothing, but if you have any suspicions, make sure to watch out for the other warning signs.

If you fear that any of your friends or loved ones are suffering from the above self-harming behaviors, it is important to connect with them. Do not get angry or shame them. Let them know that you are there for them, and that you are not disappointed in them. This is very important as to not lower their self-esteem or increase their feelings of loneliness. Let them know that it’s never too late to seek help. If you who are reading this are suffering from any of the above self-harming behavior, take the same advice that getting help is a good thing. For those seeking help for yourself or a loved one in the NW Indiana and Chicago area, come visit us at Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. We are located at 6819 W. 167th Street, Tinley Park, IL. We can be reached at (708) 633-8000.


Written By:

Emma at Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc.

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