The Secret Nobody Talks About: Eating Disorders

February 22-28 was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. What is an eating disorder? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “[eating disorders] are serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors.” 

Eating disorders are typically topics of discussion that people avoid, but it is important to realize the signs and symptoms in a loved one. 

There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include extremely restricted eating, low heart rate, abdominal distress, cold intolerance and hypotension. Bulimia nervosa encompasses worn tooth enamel, severe dehydration, acid reflux disorder and an inflamed, sore throat. Finally, binge-eating disorder consists of eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, eating fast, eating when full or not hungry or eating alone or in secret. 

Woman staring at a window sadly Photo by Tiago Banderia from Unsplash

Additionally, many times when someone is experiencing an eating disorder, it can coincide with other mental health issues. For instance, anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “2,400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 94% of the participants had a co-occurring mood disorder.”

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide. Eating disorders affect people all around the world, some may not even realize it. “Less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as ‘underweight.’” Being underweight or overweight does not always equate with having an eating disorder. 

Even if someone has not been diagnosed with an eating disorder, there are words and phrases that can trigger anyone’s thoughts on their weight. There are phrases you especially shouldn’t say to someone with an eating disorder, but talking about weight can trigger anyone. It helps to foster positive, non-judgemental words. Below are a list of phrases you should avoid, and different ways to say them. 

  • “You lost a lot of weight; you look great!”

 Try instead: “You are glowing; it is so nice to see your smiling face.”

  • “I wish I could eat that much and be so skinny”

Try instead: “Have you watched the new episode of the Bachelor?” 

  • “You’re going to eat all that?"

Try instead: “That looks amazing! I wish I got that!”

  • “Eat a burger already”

Try instead: “You are beautiful!” 

Couple talking with coffee Photo by Christin Hume from Unsplash

If you would like to read more about eating disorders, a few resources to check out are the National Eating Disorders Association, Academy for Eating Disorders and National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

If you or someone else are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, you can reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at (800) 931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer. If you feel a friend is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, it is important to reach out to them and express your concern.