Learn to Spot Warning Signs for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is this week (Feb. 20-26) and is all about spreading awareness of eating disorders and providing help and hope to those that suffer from them.

Eating disorders affect not only the individual with the disorder, but also their families and loved ones. In America, eating disorders have reached epidemic levels, with an estimated 7 million to 10 million women and 1 million men suffering from these psychiatric illnesses. A 10-year study from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders illustrates that all segments of society are affected by eating disorders: men and women, young and old, rich and poor and all ethnic groups.

  • Almost 50 percent of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • Only 1 in 10 men and women who have eating disorders receive treatment. Only 35 percent of people who receive treatment for eating disorders get it at a specialized facility for eating disorders.
  • Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a compensatory cycle of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or other behaviors designed to undo the effects of binge eating.

Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified. It is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of measures to counter the binge eating.

Behavioral Red Flags

Here are some things that family and friends may notice about someone with an eating disorder:

  • Skipping meals
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Eating only a select few “safe” foods — usually those low in fat and calories
  • Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
  • Cooking elaborate meals for others, but refusing to eat them
  • Withdrawing from normal social activities
  • Persistent worry or complaining about being fat
  • A distorted body image, such as complaining about being fat despite being underweight
  • Not wanting to eat in public
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Wearing baggy or layered clothing
  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweet or high-fat foods
  • Use of dietary supplements or herbal products for weight loss

Promote a Positive Body Image

Many children and teens also suffer from body image issues, which can lead to eating disorders. Fed Up Inc. educates boys and girls, ages 5-17, about body image, self-esteem and healthy living. Their mission: “To empower kids to shift our cultural focus from one of diets and poor body image to one of healthy balanced living and health at every size.”

Society places a large focus on celebrities and their bodies, which influence and pressure us to feel like we must look a certain way. Remember that our genetics influence our bone structure, body size, shape and weight differently and uniquely for each person.

Listen to your body and know yourself better. Do everything you can to promote a positive body image and a healthier lifestyle with more nutritious food and regular exercise. Because in the end, it’s about being healthy, rather than a number on a scale or fitting into a certain size or mold. Take care of yourself and you will be happier and healthier for it.

For more information: National Eating Disorder Week.

Photo Credit: Christi Nielsen

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