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National Bullying Prevention Month: The Relationship Between Bullying and Eating Disorders


October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it is important to remember that bullying can have dangerous and deadly consequences.

Around this time last year, members of the U.K. charity Beat presented the results of a study they conducted on 600 people during Anti-Bullying Week. Beat found that at least 90 percent of the participants admitted to having been bullied at some point in their lives.

The study also showed that 78 percent of participants who suffer from an eating disorder admitted that bullying was a significant cause of their disorder. This statistic has increased since Beat conducted the survey in 2010, when only 46 percent of people surveyed believed their eating disorder was directly related to bullying. The organization also notes that more than 40 percent of people stated that they were under the age of 10 when they first experienced bullying.

Self-Esteem and Body Image Struggles

As children in middle school, or teens in high school, we all work through a wide range of psychological and physical issues, such as body image awareness. During this time period, kids are extremely conscious of their physical appearance and how others perceive them. Being teased about body weight and other physical traits can cause a teen to develop depression, low self esteem and isolation.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder can become coping mechanisms for individuals who are being bullied. An eating disorder can become a way for a teen to regain some control of his or her life when he or she feels at a loss for control. Some individuals may also turn to eating disorders as a way to manage stress, while others may simply find solace in their eating disorder and may even see the disorder as a sort of companion.

Trying to Cope

Susan Ringwood, CEO of Beat, reaffirms the notion that low self esteem can lead to eating disorders, and that bullying of any kind lowers self esteem. Ringwood also points out that while young people are very aware of the growing seriousness of the situation, many times a teen's cries out for help are not taken seriously.

"Schools need to make sure their anti-bullying policies are effective and used – and not just a dusty document on a shelf," Ringwood suggests.

Parents, teachers and coaches must learn to recognize the signs of eating disorders and bullying in order to be able to prevent them. Here are some signs of bullying you can look out for:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothes, books and other personal items
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating
  • Having nightmares frequently or having trouble sleeping
  • A sudden drop in grades, a sudden loss of interest in schoolwork or trying to avoid going to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Decreased self esteem, depression and feelings of helplessness
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as self-harm, talk of suicide or running away from home

Sources: The Huffington Post,