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“I Had No Idea” – National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week ran from Sunday, February 22 to Saturday, February 28. The purpose of this annual event is to promote awareness about eating disorders and offer resources for those who are suffering. The National Eating Disorder Association chooses a different theme every year to focus on, with this year’s theme as “I Had No Idea.” Eating disorders are often overlooked and not taken seriously, even though there are the leading cause of death among all psychiatric illnesses. There are a lot of myths involving eating disorders, as well as misinformation fed to the general pubic. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week aims to promote awareness, being a source of education for all, as well as a support system for those struggling.  

NEDA focuses on early intervention and prevention of the illness. Without accurate information on what eating disorders actually are and look like, signs and symptoms are often missed. It is not until someone has a full-blown eating disorder that you truly understand the problem. However, intervening early on can decrease the chance of this happening, as well as increasing the chance of a full recovery. 

What I found very helpful this year were the specific topics that NEDA decided to focus on everyday for the week, targeting a different audience each time:

Sunday February 22: Media Literacy 

– Being a critical thinker of media in terms of body image

– Expressing concerns for advertisements that promote unrealistic ideal body types 

Monday February 23: Marginalized Voices

– Proving false the stereotypes about what a person with an eating disorder looks like

– Understanding that eating disorders can affect people of any age, gender, and ethnicity

Tuesday February 24: Athletes and Eating Disorders

– Being aware of the increased chance of eating disorders amongst athletes

– Providing proper information to coaches, teammates, and parents to prevent the illness 

Wednesday February 25: Youth & Bullying 

– Understanding that people often use eating disorders as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings and emotions 

– Prevention of bullying, as weight discrimination can increase negative self-esteem

Thursday February 26: Dieting and Eating Disorders 

– Being a critical thinker in terms of health and wellness messages and promotions within society, and rejecting the diet mentality 

– Being aware that there is no one right way to eat or exercise, and that every body responds differently 

Friday February 27: Medical Professionals 

– Increasing eating disorder education amongst physicians and medical professionals, in order to prevent overlooking symptoms of the illness, and offer the appropriate treatment

Saturday February 28: Parents 

– Increasing eating disorder education amongst parents to help them identify the illness early on 

– Giving appropriate resources and tips to parents on how they can be a support system through their child’s recovery  

It’s important to not only raise awareness about eating disorders, but also to promote positive body image and self-esteem, and explain the importance of this in todays society. Being busy university students, we often get so caught up in our academics and social life, that we forget to take care of ourselves. It’s easy to fade into what society is talking about or doing, and body bashing is becoming a very common activity amongst many people – girls especially. It’s important to remember that we are so much more than our bodies. We have a mind and spirit that need to be nurtured as well. It would also be a good practice to put the focus on who we are as people rather than how we look. Being kind, loyal, and trustworthy are more important than looking a certain way, or having a certain body type.

NEDA has extremely helpful information on how to get involved, along with many resources. Their website includes free information packets for awareness and tips on how to help – everything from “What is Anorexia?” to “Ten Steps to Positive Body Image.”

I participate in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week every year. Last year, I put together an information booth in my high school for my peers with handouts and resources. I also organized discussions within different classrooms of all grades. This year, I was active by promoting it on social media, and also by hosting a self-esteem, body image, and eating disorder workshop for my sorority, Delta Delta Delta. Having personally experienced and recovered from an eating disorder, I try my best to raise awareness about the issue as much as I can, and provide support for whoever needs it. It’s been a long journey for me, and I’ve changed a lot over the years. I have faced my deepest fears and have discovered more about myself than I could have possibly imagined. I now live a happy and healthy life, with more confidence that I have ever had. I have a healthy eating structure, but am not afraid to swallow down a pizza when I want to. I let go of compulsive exercising and found a new love for fitness. I use my story now as a reminder of hope: a reminder that no matter how hard life gets and no matter how low we may feel, there is always a chance to move ahead. 

Although this event is only a week every February, we should be aware of eating disorders at all times. If you or someone you know if suffering with an eating disorder, please speak to a professional about it. Listed below are resources in the GTA for eating disorders: 

National Eating Disorder Information Centre: 1 866 633 4220

National Eating Disorders Association: 1 800 931 2237

Eating Disorders of York Region: 905 886 6632

Sheena’s Place: 416 927 8900

Odeta is a first year student at the University of Toronto, working towards a degree in Kinesiology. She's passionate about fitness and nutrition, volunteering, and body image empowerment. She spends her time volunteering at Sick Kids Hospital, working out at the gym, flowing through yoga classes, and writing poems (and articles for Her Campus of course!). 
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