The scrutinization of the body has become even more common with the usage of social media and the many types of marketing that are geared towards getting a certain body type, e.g., tight waist, big hips, and a round butt. In the next couple of days it will be the start of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 25- Mar. 3). This week is important because eating disorders can often be overlooked due to the increased pervasiveness of dieting culture in our society today. However, it may be difficult to tell the difference between simple dieting and an eating disorder. According to the American Psychiatry Association (APA), “Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become pre-occupied with food and their body weight.”1 Therefore, someone with an eating disorder may become so focused on their body image to the point where it may almost be obsessive. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)2 identified some general emotional and behavioral signs of a potential eating disorder such as:
Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
Extreme mood swings
However, there are multiple types of eating disorders with different symptoms. The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. NEDA has provided their own definitions for these disorders3:
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, in many individuals, distorted body image.
Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.
Binge eating disorder, the most common eating disorder in the United States, is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food; a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.
If you think that a friend may have an eating disorder or if you think that you may have one, here are some suggestions from NEDA that may be helpful!4
Talk to them in private. If you have any concerns with your friend’s eating habits, set a time to talk about it with them privately. No one wants to be confronted by someone publicly in front of others.
Avoid overly simplistic solutions. Being told “Just stop” or “Just eat” isn’t helpful. It can leave the other person feeling frustrated, defensive, and misunderstood.
Encourage them to seek professional help. While it is great to act as a support for your friends, many people with eating disorders require professional help in order to get better. Getting timely, effective treatment dramatically increases a person’s chances for recovery.
It may be hard to love our bodies in this current climate with constant advertisements for new dieting trends and the praising of certain body types, but please remember that ALL body types are beautiful, including yours! For more information about eating disorders, you can check out NEDA’s website.