National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2020
Come As You Are: Hindsight Is 20/20
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is here & this is a great opportunity to spread awareness & even educate yourself on this set of dangerous disorders. This week, we want to cover a few important facts about eating disorders. So, first things first:
What Are Eating Disorders?
An eating disorder is a mental illness that is centered around a preoccupation with food and weight. Without treatment, eating disorders take over a person’s life and lead to serious, potentially fatal medical complications. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Like we mentioned before, eating disorders are a mental illness. Although rates are higher among women is is crucial to remember that they are not an issue of vanity and do not discriminate. Eating disorders reach across all barriers with no regard for size, race, gender identity, or age.
Eating disorders are a group of related conditions which means that each has unique symptoms that separate them from one another.
Anorexia Nervosa. People with anorexia will deny themselves food to the point of self-starvation as the disorder causes them to obsess over calories and weight loss. Within anorexia, there are a range of behaviors that come into play. Some deny hunger and refuse to eat, some practice purging behaviors through physical means or through exercise, often to the point of exhaustion as they attempt to limit, eliminate or “burn” any calories that have been consumed.
The emotional symptoms of anorexia include:
- Irritability & social withdrawal
- Lack of mood or emotion
- Being unable to understand the seriousness of the situation
- Fear of eating in public
- Obsessions with food, food rituals, and exercise
- Being unnaturally cold
- Large amounts of food being considered off-limits
- Lanugo (thin, soft hair that grows all over the body, usually in the body’s attempt at insulation in the absence of body fat)
Anorexia can take a heavy physical toll. Very low food intake and inadequate nutrition may cause a person to become very thin, although not everyone suffering from anorexia reaches a low weight. The body is forced to slow down to conserve energy causing irregularities or loss of menstruation, constipation and abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythms, low blood pressure, dehydration and trouble sleeping. One in five who suffer from anorexia die by suicide while others cause lasting damage to their heart & organs.
Bulimia Nervosa. This eating disorder is marked by recurrent episodes of binge eating along with compensatory behavior. An episode of binge eating includes eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat within a two hour time period, with a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating). In Bulimia, a person also recurrently tries to make up for eating by compensating with fasting, self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or use of laxatives, diuretics or other medications. A person with Bulimia, similarly to anorexia, is very worried about their weight or shape. This becomes a repeating cycle that controls many aspects of a person’s life and has a very negative effect both emotionally and physically. People living with bulimia are usually normal weight or even a bit overweight, however, they may be underweight as well.
The emotional symptoms of bulimia include:
- Low self-esteem overly linked to body image
- Feelings of being out of control around food
- Having “trigger” foods
- Feeling guilty or shameful about eating
- Frequent trips to the store, an unusual amount of money spent on food, or missing food from the house
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Unusually clogged drains or frequent trips to the bathroom during or after meals
Like anorexia, bulimia will inflict physical damage. The binging and purging can severely harm the parts of the body involved in eating and digesting food such as causing cavities & enamel erosion in the teeth, tears in the lining of the stomach and esophagus, bruising & scrapes along the knuckles, and acid reflux. Excessive purging can cause dehydration that affects the body’s electrolytes and leads to cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure, and even death.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Binge Eating Disorder is defined as recurrent episodes of binge eating with a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating, and there are no compensatory measures taken. A binge-eating episode may also include:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of embarrassment over how much one is eating and feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty afterward.
Pica. Pica is the eating of substances that have no nutritional value for a period of at least one month. For example, if someone eats cotton or clay, this would be considered Pica.
Rumination Disorder. Rumination Disorder is repeated regurgitation of food for at least one month, which includes re-chewing, re-swallowing or spitting out food.
What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating or feeding disturbance where a person is unable to meet their nutritional or energy needs. Some ways that you might notice this are significant weight loss or not keeping up with expected growth, nutritional deficiencies, dependence on nutritional supplements or having one’s nutritional issues interfere with their psychosocial functioning.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). When you meet some of the criteria for an eating disorder, but not all, you may find yourself in the category of EDNOA: There are 5 categories:
- Atypical Anorexia Nervosa: meeting all of the symptoms of Anorexia with weight at or above the normal range
- Binge Eating Disorder that is less frequent or did not occur as long as needed for the full diagnosis
- Bulimia Nervosa that is less frequent or did not occur as long as needed for the full diagnosis
- Purging Disorder is when a person purges without bingeing
- Night Eating Syndrome occurs when a person consumes at least 25% of their daily intake after the evening meal. Waking up after going to bed in order to eat may also occur.
- Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder is for disorders that do not meet the criteria of any of the above disorders, but still cause great emotional upset or interferes with daily life.
We hear time & time again that there are many who feel like they aren’t “sick enough”, “thin enough”, or don’t look enough like someone who has an eating disorder to seek help. Please remember that, although the media partrays Eds as an issue for affluent white females, they can happen to anyone. If a preoccupation with food or body weight is getting in the way of living you happiest life, we urge you to reach out and get the help you deserve.
There is no such thing as “sick enough”.
NEDA Helpline: 800-931-2237
NEDA Text Line: text “NEDA” to 741741