This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 22- Feb. 28, 2021). This movement is dedicated not only towards raising the level of public understanding about a commonly stigmatized mental health issue, but also is dedicated to creating awareness about various resources for further information and potential help, should someone need it.
It’s important that we each do our part to continue to educate ourselves about eating disorders year-round, but it’s especially important during this week. So, here is some information and statisitics about what eating disorders actually are, what they can look like, and who they can affect
What Is An Eating Disorder?
The National Institute on Mental Health states that an eating disorder is a severe and often fatal mental disorder. It leads to significant changes in a person’s typical eating behaviors. They can:
- Become obsessed with food
- Become obsessed with their weight
- Continuously focus on their body shape
- Compare themselves to other people
- Unable to see the changes as a result of their eating disorder
However, not all eating disorders look the same.
Most Common Types of Eating Disorders:
There are many kinds of eating disorders, but the following three are very common.
- Characterized by extreme fear of weight gain and being overweight, or by taking extreme measures to prevent weight gain, even thought the individual is underweight.
- Food intake is limited, leading to very low body weight for one’s age and height
- Issues with body image or denial that the underweight condition is a serious problem
- Characterized by eating often, eating large amounts of food, or feeling out of control of eating behavior and the amount of food eaten
- Frequently purging to prevent weight gain using such methods as self-induced vomiting, laxatives or diuretics, routine fasting or overexercising
- Overly concerned with body weight and shape
- Disordered eating and purging behaviors occur at least once a week for three months
- Binge-eating at least once a week for three months, plus:
- Eating more food in a specific period of time than most people would eat in the same amount of time, and
- Feeling out of control over eating behavior and the amount of food eaten
It can also involve at least three of these five behaviors:
- Eating much faster than normal, eating until uncomfortably full, eating huge amounts of food even when not feeling hungry, eating secretively or alone out of shame, or experiencing feelings of disgust, depression and/or extreme guilt after bingeing
Know The Symptoms And Be Aware Of Them:
It’s common for those with an eating disorder to not realize they have one. Maybe you know your relationship with food isn’t that healthy, but you wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as an eating disorder. However, this unhealthy relationship can be caused by or lead to an eating disorder. For this reason, it’s crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Some typical signs of eating disorders include:
- Preoccupation with food
- Dramatic weight loss
- Excessive exercising
- Body dysmorphia
- Refusing to eat food for a variety of reasons
- Avoiding eating in front of people
- Complaining of being fat
- Always dieting
- Hoarding or hiding food
- Wearing loose clothes to hide weight loss
- Using drugs or alcohol
It is important to know these symptoms because eating disorders have many effects on our bodies.
The Effects Of Eating Disorders On The Body
In addition to disrupting your day-to-day activities, an eating disorder can affect your mental and emotional health. You might find yourself feeling more anxious about the number of calories you consume or ashamed about your weight. You may start to isolate from friends and family who express concerns about your health, and that isolation can lead to depression.
The physical impact of an eating disorder can be significant. Over time, disordered eating behaviors can damage your digestive tract, skin, bones and teeth, as well as the functioning of various other organs like your heart. Eating disorders have the highest death rate among mental health conditions, especially Anorexia Nervosa. In fact, the risk of early death for those with this illness is 18 times higher than that of their peers. That’s why early recognition of symptoms and appropriate treatment are essential.
Help And Resources For Eating Disorders
Whether you start by seeing your primary care practitioner or some type of mental health professional, you’ll likely benefit from having a professional or external resource with which to talk or seek help.It’s okay to not be okay and admit to needing someone’s help. Here are some people who could help:
- A mental health professional, such as a psychologist to provide therapy. If you need some sort of medication prescribed, you may see a psychiatrist. Some psychiatrists can also provide psychological therapy.
- A registered dietitian to provide education on nutrition and meal planning.
- Medical or dental specialists to treat health or dental problems that may result from your eating disorder.
- Your partner, parents or other family members. Whoever you know that has your back, whoever you can trust, should be by your side throughout the process–for however long you need.
So, bottom line, eating disorders are real and way more prevalent than people think. It’s important to continue raising awareness about them and to be on guard for those around you who might suffer from one. Finally, if you think you yourself might suffer from one, do not be scared to seek help and talk about it.