Every year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW) is observed during a first full week in February and March. The week is dedicated to raising awareness about eating disorders, recognising the diversity of their symptoms, and promoting access to care.
The goal of NEDAW is to provide education, resources, and support to those who have eating disorders and their families. The week is also an opportunity to open up conversations about eating disorders, recognise the signs and symptoms, and break the stigma and shame associated with them.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve maladaptive behaviors surrounding food and body image. Eating disorders can have serious physical, emotional, and social consequences. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by extreme restriction of food and exercise, as well as an intense fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia often have a distorted body image and a persistent fear of becoming overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by binge eating followed by compensatory behaviour, such as purging or over-exercising. People with bulimia typically feel out of control during a binge and then feel guilty or shameful afterward.
Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder characterised by recurrent, compulsive overeating. People with binge eating disorder often feel embarrassed or ashamed of their behavior and try to hide it from others.
Types of Eating Disorders
In addition to the three most common eating disorders, there are several other types of eating disorders. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder characterised by a refusal to eat certain foods due to a lack of interest in food or an intense fear of choking or vomiting.
Pica is an eating disorder characterised by the persistent ingestion of non-food items, such as dirt, paper, or soap. Rumination disorder is an eating disorder characterised by the regurgitation of food and the rechewing or reswallowing of it.
Night eating syndrome is an eating disorder characterised by an intense craving for food late at night. People with night eating syndrome often have difficulty falling and staying asleep and often wake up in the middle of the night to eat.
Symptoms of Eating Disorders
The symptoms of eating disorders vary depending on the type of disorder. Some of the most common symptoms include:
• A preoccupation with food and body weight • Unusual eating habits, such as skipping meals or eating in secret • Extreme restrictions on food intake • Compulsive exercise • Extreme weight loss or weight gain • An obsession with eating “healthy” foods • Withdrawal from activities and social events • Feelings of guilt or shame about eating • A distorted body image.
Causes of Eating Disorders
The exact causes of eating disorders are unknown, but there are many factors that can contribute to their development. These include biological, psychological, and social factors.
Biological factors may include genetics, hormones, or chemical imbalances in the brain. Psychological factors may include low self-esteem, negative body image, difficulty managing emotions, and a history of trauma or abuse. Social factors may include cultural pressures to be thin, teasing or bullying, and an environment that promotes unhealthy eating habits.
How to Identify an Eating Disorder
If you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of an eating disorder, there are several ways to identify it. These include:
• Keeping track of food intake, exercise, and body weight • Noticing changes in behaviour, such as increased isolation or withdrawal from activities • Observing signs of distress, such as feelings of guilt or shame • Noticing changes in mood, such as irritability or sadness • Noticing changes in appearance, such as extreme weight loss or gain.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, it is important to seek help. It is also important to remember that eating disorders are not a choice and no one is to blame.
Eating Disorder Tests and Treatments
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, there are tests and treatments available.
The most common test for an eating disorder is a physical exam. During a physical exam, your doctor will look for signs of an eating disorder, such as extreme weight loss or gain, changes in skin or hair, or abnormal lab results.
The most common treatments for eating disorders are psychotherapy, medications, and nutrition counselling. Psychotherapy is often the primary treatment for eating disorders and can help individuals understand and cope with their feelings and behaviors related to food and body image. Medications can help treat the physical and emotional symptoms of eating disorders. Nutrition counselling can help individuals learn healthy eating habits and gain a better understanding of nutrition.
Resources for Eating Disorder Awareness and Help
If you are looking for resources for eating disorder awareness and help, there are many organisations that can provide support and information. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is a great resource for information and support. They have an online helpline and an extensive database of resources, including treatment centers, support groups, and online support.
The Eating Recovery Center (ERC) is another great resource for eating disorder awareness and help. They have a helpline and provide a wide range of services, including individual and family therapy, nutrition counselling, and medical care.
Strategies for Coping with Eating Disorders
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, there are strategies for coping. These include:
• Eating regular meals and snacks • Exercising in moderation • Challenging negative thoughts • Seeking professional help • Finding a supportive community • Practicing self-care • Keeping a food diary • Avoiding triggers • Setting realistic goals.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is an important opportunity to raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding eating disorders. It is important to recognise the signs and symptoms of eating disorders as well as the risk factors and treatments available. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, but with the right resources and support, recovery is possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to get help and remember that you are not alone.
Every year, let’s take the time to recognise National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and the importance of understanding and supporting those who are affected by eating disorders. Together, we can help reduce the stigma and shame associated with eating disorders and create a more supportive and understanding environment.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out for help. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has an online helpline and an extensive database of resources. The Eating Recovery Center (ERC) also has a helpline and provides a wide range of services. Together, we can help create a world without eating disorders.