“I Had No Idea:” National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This week marks the 28th annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a national effort to raise awareness of and provide both education and resources for people suffering from an eating disorder. Each of the seven days will focus on a specific audience group in an effort to get people from all different walks of life involved: the media, marginalized voices, youth, athletes, parents, the medical community and people with subclinical disordered eating.“#NEDAwareness week is a really great opportunity for anybody who is struggling or has questions about eating disorders,” said Diana Kalogridis, a program director at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). “It provides a time to meet with others and to be able to hear other stories and be reminded that they are not alone.”This year’s theme, “I Had No Idea,” is an extension of last year’s and is especially focused on marginalized voices, such as those who are transgender, male or are part of a racial minority. “We are really trying to bring attention to the fact that there are so many more voices to be heard,” Kalogridis said.

What’s an eating disorder?In general, eating disorders are mental illnesses that involve an unhealthy relationship with food and extreme concerns about body image. They are serious, life-threatening conditions with both serious physical and mental consequences. The most common types are anorexia and bulimia, but there are others, too, such as binge-eating disorder and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS).Anorexia is characterized by an extreme obsession with being thin, extreme food restriction and overexercising. Bulimia also involves issues with body image but involves frequent episodes of binging (consuming a large amount of food) and purging (ridding oneself of food through vomiting, laxative abuse or overexercising). Binge-eating disorder resembles bulimia, but there is no attempt at compensating after a binge.

Myths vs. FactsMyth: “Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice.”Fact: Eating disorders are serious illnesses with both mental and physical consequences that cause extreme distress and suffering. People can make the choice to recover; however, it isn’t as easy as simply choosing to refrain from disordered behaviors.

Myth: “You can tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them.”Fact: Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. It’s a common misconception that those suffering from an eating disorder have to look emaciated, when in fact people suffering from anorexia may never get to that point. People with bulimia, binge eating or EDNOS can be either underweight, average weight or overweight.

Myth: “Men can’t get eating disorders.”Fact: At least one out of every 10 people with an eating disorder is male.

Myth: “Only people of high socioeconomic status get eating disorders.”Fact: Eating disorders are present in every socioeconomic status and across almost all races and ethnicities equally, with the exception of anorexia being more prevalent in non-Hispanic whites.

Myth: “Anorexia is the only life-threatening eating disorder.”Fact: Research shows that other kinds of eating disorders have similar mortality rates to anorexia. Even in patients whose cases were not deadly there are often serious, lasting medical complications, such as brittle bones, heart problems and infertility.

Concerned for yourself or a loved one?Recovery is very possible, and the earlier the better. Help is just around the corner. If you or someone you love is struggling, the NEDA hotline is toll-free and confidential: 800- 931-2237. For more information, check out the NEDA website and even take a look at its free online screening. (Note: The online screening is not a diagnosis but a general evaluation.) Be aware of your loved ones and classmates, collegiettes, and always be there to offer a helping hand to someone who may be suffering with an eating disorder.