National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

By: Terra Clarke Olsen

Feb 23rd to March 1st is national Eating Disorder Awareness Week. No, this is not a nerdy topic, but it is an Does-how-you-feel-determine-what-you-eat-MIDDLE-HIGH-SCHOOL-Final-copyimportant one. Eating disorders inflict 30 million people in the United States alone. Most likely, you know someone with an eating disorder but may have no clue.

This year, NEDA (National Easting Disorder Association) has focused its efforts on building awareness and  “stressing the need to address eating disorder misconceptions – as many individuals, families, and communities are not aware of the often devastating mental and physical consequences – and highlights available resources for treatment and support.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders. For one, it is not just a female issue. Out of those 30 million in the United States, 10 million are men. In reality, though, the numbers are likely higher because men are less likely to seek help due to gender role conflicts. And many people are unaware how fatal anorexia is. One out of five people with anorexia will die due to causes related to the disorder. And it has the highest suicide rate of any psychiatric condition. (Source) In addition, many people feel that eating disorders are a ‘life choice,” which is simply not true. As NEDA writes:

Eating disorders are complex illnesses that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, biological and social factors. As our natural body size and shape is largely determined by genetics, fighting our natural size and shape can lead to unhealthy dieting practices, poor body image and decreased self-esteem. Body dissatisfaction and thin ideal internalization are both significant risk factors for the development of eating disorder behaviors like restricting and binge eating. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are about much more than food. Recent research has shown that genetic factors create vulnerabilities that place individuals at risk for acting on cultural pressures and using food to feel in control or manage overwhelming emotions. 

This is important to note, especially among parents who should be extremely aware and cautious when dealing with children. Horrifying, eating disorders are on the rise among young children. Below is just part of an infographic from NEDA’s website. The statistics are heartbreaking, but very real.

war on women's bodies(This one and more here.)

There are different kinds of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa; Bulimia Nervosa; Binge Eating Disorder. Each have different characteristics, but all are serious. NEDA points out that many people are misinformed about eating disorders, and assume that someone those inflicted by an eating disorder will have an extremely low weight and extreme starvation habits. This is simply not true; people with eating disorders can by of any weight and are very good at hiding their illness.
NEDA provided this list to help with early discovery:

  • Makes frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicate that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of wrappers and containers indicating consumption or large amounts of food
  • Evidence of purging behavior, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
  • Develops food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group, excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch, etc.)
  • Skips meals or takes small portions of food at regular meals
  • Hides body with baggy clothes
  • Maintains excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury—because of the need to “burn off” calories
  • Drinks excessive amounts of water and/or uses excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints and gum
By becoming more aware of eating disorders, you could potentially help save a loved one. There is a lot of shame and hiding that accompanies these illnesses, so approaching the matter in an informed and caring way is the best approach.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help. There are a lot of sources out there aimed at helping get through this illness. No one deserves to go through this alone. ❤