Do you know someone who has suffered from an eating disorder? The odds are high that your answer should be “yes.” However, these disorders tend to be invisible, or go unnoticed by many of the people around the affected person. The people who are suffering are not just following a fad, nor are they trying to get attention. They usually have dissatisfaction with their body, and their eating has become disordered in response to this unrest.
Every year, in the United States, millions of people are affected by eating disorders. They come in many different forms, from starving oneself to binge eating. This is not just a diet gone wrong, these are disorders which have long-lasting physical and mental effects and can be life-threatening. People from all ethnic groups and levels of income are affected and when compared to other mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate. These are serious illnesses and the people who are suffering deserve help and support to find their way to wellness.
Feb. 26 through March 4 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This is a perfect time to learn more about eating disorders and find ways to help. You can begin with a visit to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, where you will find information, ways to get involved and help if you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder. NEDA also has an information and referral helpline (1-800-931-2237) to answer questions if you think you may have an eating disorder and to direct you to services in your area. You can also find an online screening tool on the NEDA website. This is an anonymous self-assessment to provide a step toward treatment for those who suffer from an eating disorder. If a disorder is indicated by the screening, the NEDA site will provide information and referrals to begin the journey toward health. Early treatment is essential to minimize physical and emotional damage.
The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. When a person suffers from anorexia they have an obsessive desire to lose weight. They are afraid of gaining weight, and restrict their food intake to the point of starving. Bulimia is characterized by dissatisfaction with one’s body and an obsessive desire to lose weight, as well. The person with bulimia will have periods of binge eating, followed by extreme guilt, depression and fasting, purging or self-induced vomiting. There are about 10 million people in the United States who have been diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia. Compulsive overeating is similar to bulimia, but doesn’t usually include the purging or fasting periods.
A more recently observed eating disorder (though not recognized as a clinical diagnosis) has been named orthorexia, which means “fixation on healthy eating”. This is a condition in which the person is concerned with eating only what is healthy, to the point of being unhealthy because their diet becomes extremely restrictive. This and many other eating disorders are diagnosed as ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS). All of these conditions cause damage, both physically and emotionally. For even more information, check out the TEDx talk by Laura Hill.
If your interest has been stirred, there is a local event you can easily get involved with. May 13, 2017 is the date for the NEDA walk in Seattle to raise awareness and dollars. The funds raised help pay for the many services NEDA offers as well as support for people struggling with these disorders. You can learn more about the event and how to get involved at: http://nedawareness.org/.