Various studies show that military service members have a higher risk of developing eating disorders than the general population. In an organization that depends on mental and physical health, this can cause serious damage to the mission.
An eating disorder is an illness that causes damaged attitudes and behaviors toward food, eating, exercise, and body image. There are many types, and each has its own set of accompanying symptoms. Each person’s experience is unique and complex right from the start.
It can literally arise from anything,” said Capt. Morgan Carpenter, Nutrition Medicine Journey Leader at 633d Medical Group. “Maybe something terrible will happen, or maybe nothing… it could come from anywhere.”
Regardless of their source, eating disorders appear to affect a large percentage of the military. One study found that among the military members sampled, one-third of women and one-fifth of men reported symptoms consistent with an eating disorder diagnosis. This indicates that the military population is two to three times more likely to develop an eating disorder than the civilian population; This risk increases in certain branches and functional areas.
The risk also increases during certain times of the year.
“The disordered eating patterns that we see in the community, I see ten times more around PT,” Carpenter said. “That’s when she raises her ugly head the most.”
This supports aggregate data showing that some service members engage in disordered eating habits three times as often during the course of a fitness test.
Pre-existing mental health conditions may exacerbate this problem. A study of military veterans discovered that eating disorders were more common in people with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and/or substance use disorders.
Once a person develops an eating disorder, it becomes increasingly difficult to recover. According to Carpenter, constant worrying about calories, meal times, and how to mask disordered habits confuses the brain.
It becomes your life, it consumes you,” Carpenter said. “It makes it very difficult to do your job if you can’t think of anything other than food and numbers.”
In the service profession, this can be detrimental to the mission.
“The mission comes first,” said Monica Richardson, health promotion coordinator at 633d Medical Group, discussing what she sees as the biggest barrier to seeking help in the military. “But sometimes in an effort to get the job done, we don’t think about the body or the person.”
Richardson works with service members to promote a culture of healthy living, which is often centered around nutrition. “I try to provide our pilots with as much valid information as possible,” she said. If she notices any feeding patterns related to service personnel, she directs them to Carpenter.
Although people are often afraid of the consequences of admitting they are struggling, it is crucial to seek help and begin the recovery process.
“I am not interested in destroying military jobs,” Carpenter said. “I am interested in getting help.”
Both Health Promotion and Nutritional Medicine educate and mentor Joint Base Langley-Eustis members. If the problem is too serious for either department, Carpenter will refer the person to an outpatient treatment resource. There are currently 166 eating disorder facilities in the United States available to service members and their families with Department of Defense health coverage, nine of which are in Virginia.
Despite the trends and negative data, Richardson remains optimistic. She believes the health climate is rapidly changing, making recovery and resources more achievable.
“I think we need to remember that when it comes to healthy living, it’s never really about food or just exercise,” Richardson said. We have to take a step back as leaders to really say, “How do we make sure our wing guys get what they need?”
For more information, contact Captain Carpenter or Mrs. Richardson via the USAF Langley Hospital main number: 757-225-7630.
|Announcement date:||07.11.2022 10:04|
|Site:||JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, VA, United States|
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