The Harvard School of Public Health reports that more than 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, yet only about 33 percent receive treatment. Women are at the greatest risk of developing eating disorders, but the illness can also affect men.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018
This year, the theme for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is “Let’s Get Real.” The mission is to continue the conversation about eating disorders as well as issues with body image, which affects millions of Americans beyond those who suffer from eating disorders. From February 26-March 4, you can join the conversation online with the hashtag #NEDAwareness.
Defining Eating Disorders
There are three major eating disorders:
- Binge Eating: People with binge eating disorder feel a loss of control when it comes to eating, and may consume large quantities of food in short periods of time. They tend to be overweight or obese.
- Anorexia Nervosa: People with anorexia have a distorted body image: when they look in the mirror, they focus on perceived flaws. They have an obsession with thinness, and go to extremes with calorie restriction and exercise, often leading to malnutrition and low body weight.
- Bulimia Nervosa: This disorder combines binge eating (a loss of control) with purging or excessive exercise in an attempt to counteract the effects of overeating. They may maintain a normal weight, but they tend to live in fear of gaining weight.
Who’s At Risk?
There are many factors that may come into play in developing an eating disorder. It often goes hand-in-hand with depression and other mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says:
“Although eating disorders all have food and weight issues in common, most experts now believe that eating disorders are caused by people attempting to cope with overwhelming feelings and painful emotions by controlling food.”
Peer pressure, a culture that champions thinness, and even genetics can play a role in developing an eating disorder. Females, especially teens and those in their early 20s, people under extreme stress, and people who participate in specific activities that require a particular weight or body shape (like gymnastics, modeling, and dancing) are more likely to develop an eating disorder.
Mayo Clinic outlines some of the signs of eating disorders:
- Skipping meals
- Losing a lot of weight
- Obsessing over calories, appearance, and thinness
- Using laxatives or weight loss supplements
- Eating large amounts of junk food
- Eating secretly
- Expressing shame about eating
- Exercising excessively
If you notice any of these signs in someone, you may want to help them seek treatment. The University of Wisconsin River Falls offers suggestions on how to approach a friend who has an eating disorder. An eating disorder should be considered serious; it can lead to poor physical health and even death, not to mention the mental toll it takes on the person. From February 26-March 4, help spread education and awareness during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.