In the United States alone, more than 30 million people are affected by eating disorders, with one person dying approximately every 52 minutes.
The first Monday in February begins National Eating Disorders Awareness Week with the intention of bringing education, support, and understanding to this deadly condition.
Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status.
3 Most Common Eating Disorders
Binge Eating Disorder
The most common eating disorder in the U.S., binge eating is similar to bulimia but people with binge eating disorder typically do not purge after an episode. Sufferers feel out of control around food and often use food to cope with stressors in their lives.
“BED often goes undiagnosed for the longest, due to the stigma overweight and obese individuals face in our healthcare system,” said Addie Claire Jones, MS, RD, CSCS, director of Nutrition at VIDA Fitness.
Anorexia is marked by significant weight loss and inability to maintain body weight, as well as severe body dysmorphia. It often includes an intense fear of gaining weight even if the person is underweight. With anorexia, a person may refuse to eat, abuse laxtives, exercise obsessively, or simply walk for hours to eliminate or burn calories.
People living with bulimia will binge on a large volume of food during a short period of time, and then try to void themselves of the extra calories using forced vomiting or laxatives. Another method of purging is excessive exercise. This becomes a cycle and has very dangerous effects, both emotionally and physically.
There are several categories of factors that can lead to the development of an eating disorder. One includes cultural and peer pressures that idealize a particular body type. Another is an emotional and mental predisposition to impulsive behavior and/or perfectionism. A very common category is those who seek control over their lives after losing it during a traumatic event.
The good news is: There is help available and it is possible to recover from an eating disorder.
What are the warning signs?
Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with eating disorders. There is often a withdrawal from activities and family and friends and a fixation on food and or exercise. This often looks like a new interest in studying nutrition, which is called orthorexia. Swift and significant weight loss suggests food restriction. There are some simple screening questionnaires, including the the NEDA 11-question eating attitudes test.
What To Do
If you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you can get help by looking up local treatment centers, or starting with a primary care provider.
What can you do to observe National Eating Disorders Week – and even beyond?
Consider volunteering to operate a helpline. You don’t have to be a counselor or therapist to do so. Just a listening ear and the ability to guide individuals to resources available to get help.
Set a good example. Do not comment on other people’s bodies or your own. Do not assume that someone has lost or gained weight intentionally, or that weight loss is always a positive thing. Find something more interesting to discuss.
Educate yourself about proper nutrition and keep yourself healthy inside and out. Consider working with – or recommending – a VIDA Registered Dietitian for nutritional counseling so that you are armed with the information you need to do so.
Be open-minded, kind, aware, nonjudgmental, and a good listener.