This is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and Aubrey’s Song Foundation for Eating Disorders, a local nonprofit, is focused on spreading awareness and education, as well as offering support for families who are affected by eating disorders.

Education and awareness, according to Executive Director Carolyn Ferber, is the first line of defense in prevention.

Through education, she said, the foundation can go into schools and other avenues in the community to speak with youth about body positivity, early detection and intervention.

She said the foundation also works to help provide education, webinars and training for healthcare professionals, to help them understand what to look out for and how to address and treat eating disorders.

Eating disorders are prevalent in Kentucky, where 900,000 individuals are challenged by the condition and nearly 30,000 of them are experiencing life-threatening conditions.

Early education and intervention, she said, could help catch instances of eating disorders before they progress to a critical level.

Key indicators that someone might be affected by an eating disorder, according to Ferber, are skipping meals, eating very little, obsessing over their weight or their need to lose weight, losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time, binging a large amount of food in a short period of time and leaving for the restroom at the end of a meal for long durations.

Identifying red flags, however, is not always easy, and there are not clear-cut risk factors for those who could potentially be affected by eating disorders, Ferber said.

“It’s a very secretive illness. People who have eating disorders do a very good job of hiding their behaviors,” she said.

Individuals who could be at high risk might be athletes who are dealing with a significant amount of competitive pressure, especially in regards to weight, including runners, cheerleaders or wrestlers.

Eating disorders, she said, can also be triggered by a traumatic event or experiencing significant pressure at home that might make an individual feel like they have no control.

Those who are affected by eating disorders might also display signs of anxiety, depression, poor body image, low energy, irritability, inability to heal from injuries and abnormal menstrual cycles, according to Ferber.

“If we can catch it early, ideally they’re going to have a team or a therapist to address the underlying mental piece of it, a physician and a nutritionist who will help them re-establish a healthy relationship with food,” she said.

Those who might have reached a more critical condition might also experience dehydration, malnourishment and organ failure, among other health concerns.

For individuals who receive intervention at later stages, Ferber said, they might need more intensive care, whether that is inpatient treatment to address immediate health concerns or a residential program focused on intervening in eating disorders.

“Typically when they do get to that point, they have to go out of state, and that becomes a real challenge,” she said.

Although there is an intensive outpatient program in Louisville, Ferber said there is a lack of access to inpatient care for eating disorders throughout the state, which creates a barrier to treatment.

This is where, she said, advocacy for those affected by eating disorders and education surrounding the subject becomes important in helping the community understand how significant of an issue it is.

For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Ferber said the foundation will not only help spread education about eating disorders, but will also offer a support group for families and loved ones of those affected by eating disorders, to help them better understand the condition and how to support their loved one who is experiencing it.

The support group meeting will be hosted Thursday, Feb. 24 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Logsdon Center on Friendship Drive. Advance registration is required.

For more information about the support group or other advocacy and education opportunities, visit AubreysSong.org.

Christie Netherton, cnetherton@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7360

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