For one week at the end of February/beginning of March, the National Eating Disorder Association celebrates Eating Disorder Awareness week to increase knowledge, understanding, and mindfulness about the many ways in which food, exercise, and appearance shape our daily lives. 30 million Americans will struggle with a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives (20 million women and 10 million men) and while that number is striking, millions more struggle each and every day with concerns about their food intake, exercise, and body image.
The theme for this year’s NEDAwareness Week, which takes place February 26-March 4, is Let’s Get Real and aims to “expand the conversation and highlight stories we don’t often hear” (National Eating Disorders Awareness). As cliché as it may sound, eating disorders can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. They’re of particular concern on college campuses; one study found that 13.5% undergraduate females and 3.6% of college males screen positively for clinically significant eating disorders and that scores at baseline predicted eating disorder symptoms at a two year follow-up (Eisenberg, Nicklett, Roeder, & Kirz, 2011). As such, understanding the warning signs and risk factors for disordered eating and eating disorders is incredibly important.
While the typical picture of a person with an eating disorder is an emaciated, young, white female, there are as many types of people with eating disorders as there are types of people in general. There is no way to tell who has an eating disorder just by looking, but individual’s behaviors can provide important clues.
Behavioral indications of eating disorders include
- regular dieting
- food rituals (cutting food into small bites, eating only one type of food at a time, refusing to eat at certain times of the day)
- obsessive or compulsive exercise
- refusal to participate in activities were food is involved
- extreme mood swings
- preoccupation with food and shape.
Physical symptoms include
- noticeable weight changes or fluctuations
- complaints of stomach pains
- difficulty concentrating
- insomnia or hypersomnia
- cold extremities
- hair loss
- brittle nails
- dental problems.
These problems can, and do, occur in all genders, ethnicities, races, and religions and can be incredibly detrimental no matter what.
Even if issues surrounding food, exercise, and appearance don’t meet clinical significance or diagnostic criteria, seeking help is still incredibly important. Food should provide joy and nourishment, not anxiety; exercise should be for enjoyment and pleasure, not because of what you ate the day before. If you are concerned that you or a friend may be struggling with some eating disorder concerns, the National Eating Disorder Association helpline has staff available Monday-Thursday from 9am-9pm EST and on Fridays from 9am-5pm EST. They can be reached at 800-931-2237, as well as through their online chat page. There is also a screener available online to help you determine if you or a friend may need to reach out to a professional for help.
Although eating disorders are serious, deadly illnesses, full recovery is possible. That said, however, recovery rarely happens in a vacuum; in most cases, professional help and a social support network (which can include friends, family, co-workers, or professors) are necessary to help guide an individual along through the recovery process. More information about NEDAwareness week and eating disorders in general can be found by clicking here.
Eisenberg, D., Nicklett, E. J., Roeder, K., & Kirz, N. E. (2011). Eating Disorder Symptoms Among College Students: Prevalence, Persistence, Correlates, and Treatment-Seeking. Journal of American College Health : J of ACH, 59(8), 700–707. http://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2010.546461