February is a month known for Groundhog Day, Valentines Day and Black History appreciation. While all of these events are significant and meaningful, one that is commonly looked over is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which runs during the last week of February. You may be thinking, how is this relevant to me? I don’t have an eating disorder, so who cares? Most assume that eating disorders can’t happen to them, they’re just something that happens to white teenage privileged girls who want to look good. But the truth is, anyone can fall victim to an eating disorder. No matter what someone’s age, race or gender is.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, since 1950 the development of eating disorders has been increasing, and in America, 20 million women and 10 million men battle an eating disorder at some point in their lives. That makes up a significant amount of the population. So, chances are you do know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder or have struggled with one yourself.
There’s a great deal of stigma that comes with eating disorders and other mental illnesses. This comes from the portrayal of these illnesses in the media and misconceptions that occur from lack of knowledge about these diseases. Eating disorders aren’t a choice, they’re an illness just like any other and aren’t something that you can choose to have. They’re not just about food and vanity; they develop from a deeper issue inside of someone, often stemming from a need for control and from self-esteem issues. However, the cause is not always clear and eating disorders are very complex diseases that cannot be generalized.
The first thing that probably comes to mind when you hear the words, “eating disorder,” is some of the better known eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa – but these aren’t the only ones. Eating disorders also include orthorexia, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). The lack of knowledge about these other disorders can make it hard for someone to know that they themselves or a friend has an eating disorder, and should seek help.
Also, disordered eating has become sort of socially acceptable. It’s normal to hear friends complain about how their bodies look and just casually mention that they didn’t eat breakfast or are going on some crazy diet to lose weight. This makes it difficult to notice when behaviors like these evolve into an actual problem.
The theme of Eating Disorder Awareness Week this year is “3 Minutes Can Save a Life.” It brings to attention the importance of early intervention by encouraging everyone to take a three-minute online eating disorder screening. This is a crucial step in eating disorder prevention and treatment as it identifies the problem before it gets very serious. Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (ANAD). However, with the right treatment, recovery is possible.
There are things that everyone can do to help prevent eating disorders in yourself and in those around you. These things include promoting body acceptance for all, rejecting the idea that your self-worth depends on how you look, avoiding obsessive attitudes towards food and exercise, and rejecting the idea that thinness will equate with happiness.
Eating disorders are serious issues that don’t get enough awareness because they’re hard to talk about, but by starting the conversation and continuing it, we all can raise awareness, increase knowledge about these disorders and increase access to resources that can save lives. I hope that next February you can also promote Eating Disorder Awareness week, and keep the conversation going before then to help encourage awareness. If you or a friend wants to know more or needs to seek help, resources are available at nationaleatingdisorders.org.
“ANAD.” Eating Disorders Statistics. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
“General Statistics.” Get The Facts On Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.