Eating disorders are illnesses characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. These behaviors can significantly impact the body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition, which in turn can harm its vital systems and lead to disease. However, there is a general lack awareness about the condition, with many people not seeking treatment and others, even oblivious to the fact that this is a serious health problem. Hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), NEDA Awareness Week is observed every year in the final week of February to raise awareness about eating disorders and increase prevention support. This year, NEDA Awareness Week runs from 25 February to 3 March. With the theme “Come as You Are”, NEDA’s movement aims to get people talking about eating disorders, fight associated myths and misunderstandings, get people screened, and promote body acceptance.
Held annually during NEDA Awareness Week, the National Eating Disorder Screening Program educates and screens individuals for eating disorders and connects those who may be at-risk with local treatment resources (www.mentalhealthscreening.org). The 2019 theme, “Come as You Are”, sends a message to individuals at all stages of body acceptance and eating disorders recovery that their stories are valid.
Eating disorders such as bulimia, binge eating, and anorexia affect millions of Americans and people worldwide. These serious conditions are related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. Some of the symptoms shown by many men and women indicating an eating disorder include:
- Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating
- Chronic dieting despite being hazardously underweight
- Adopting an overly restrictive vegetarian diet
- Excessive focus on healthy eating that is obsession with calories and fat contents of food
- Avoidance of social functions, family, and friends
- Withdrawing from normal social activities
- Persistent worry or complaining about being fat and talk of losing weight
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
- Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods
- Use of dietary supplements, laxatives or herbal products for weight loss
- Excessive exercise
- Problems with loss of tooth enamel that may be a sign of repeated vomiting
- Switching between periods of overeating and fasting
- Expressing depression, disgust, shame or guilt about eating habits
- Engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, and/or hiding food
If not treated or tackled at right time, the symptoms can have disastrous and even deadly consequences. Proper treatment can be highly effective for many of the specific types of eating disorders. Physicians, nutritionists, and therapists are involved in the treatment of eating disorders which usually involves interventions such as medical care and monitoring; nutritional guidance on weight restoration and stabilization and normal eating, and the integration of an individualized meal plan; therapy to address and heal from the traumatic life events and train in coping skills and methods for expressing emotions, communicating and maintaining healthy relationships, and medications.
If you notice a family member or friend who seems to have symptoms of an eating disorder, consider opening a discussion with that person about your concern for his or her well-being. Reaching out with compassion and listening with empathy may encourage the person to seek therapy.