Women learn to hide their problems and shortcomings at a young age, so it comes as no surprise that many women are so skilled at concealing their struggles with eating disorders.
Many of us have “no idea” that our friends and family members are suffering before our very eyes from bulimia, anorexia or binge-eating disorder. And that is the point of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs from February 23 to March 1.
This awareness week is used to draw attention to basic facts about eating disorders, and helps us to start talking to others about disordered eating issues we may have (it can also be used to bring up concerns we have about our loved ones that may display warning signs of eating disorders).
It could also be used as a week to open our eyes and watch for signs of eating disorders we may have missed, but also keep in mind that appearances do not always accurately reflect an eating disorder (a healthy or average-weight woman could still have an eating disorder).
The National Eating Disorders Association website said this year’s theme, “I Had No Idea,” was picked in order to “raise awareness towards the significant impact eating disorders have on individuals, families, and communities across the nation.”
Overall, the association aims to increase awareness of eating disorders and body image issues through this week, as well as increase outreach efforts, according to the website. They also are attempting to reduce stigma and decrease hurdles to treatment access.
The awareness week’s key messages this year include:
1) “Eating disorders are serious illnesses, not lifestyle choices.”
2) “Education, early intervention, and access to care are critical.”
3) “Help is available, and recovery is possible.”
One easy way to get involved in the awareness week is to take a quiz on the website to test your knowledge of eating disorders. After you complete the quiz, you can share one of the facts you found interesting from the quiz via social media.
Dr. Kim Dennis, the medical director and CEO of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, said in an email that she believes awareness weeks can help enlighten future eating disorder patients, as well as families and providers.
“I think as a culture we really have no idea how pervasively we are influenced by the thin ideal, how much we participate in weight stigma, and the more subtle ways these negative themes impact our collective subconscious,” Dennis said. “Awareness, acceptance, and action (in that order) is a recipe for healing.”
Since last year’s awareness week, there has been the official addition of binge-eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and Dennis believes this was a smart move that has helped many women.
“It increases access to care for millions of people who may not otherwise have it,” she said. “I think this addition has also helped people understand that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and hopefully will help us move from a weight-based definition of health to a health-based definition (across the many dimensions of self).”
Dennis said currently there needs to be a shift away from dieting, because that can be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Also, if we use other methods of measuring health besides BMI, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and “exercise tolerance,” then we will start to realize that weight is not always an indication of good health.
Jeana Cost, an admissions director and licensed professional counselor at Eating Recovery Center, said in an email that there are still a lot of common misconceptions about eating disorders, such as that eating disorders are only about food.
In fact, she said “eating disorders are complex illnesses with biological, psychological and sociocultural components.”
Some people also believe you can cure an eating disorder just by forcing yourself to eat, which is inaccurate. Due to biological, psychological and social aspects of eating disorders, they require effective treatment program in order to recover.
Another misconception people may have is that anorexia and bulimia are the most common eating disorders. However, binge-eating disorder is the most prevalent.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in their lifetime 2.8 percent of U.S. adults will suffer from binge-eating disorder, compared to 0.6 percent for anorexia and 1.0 percent for bulimia. Women are also more likely than men to develop an eating disorder, and more likely to develop binge-eating disorder.
Cost suggested that in order to help reduce risk factors for eating disorders, we all need to make a conscious effort to focus more on what our body does for us, and less on our weight, size, appearance and shape.
Cost, Jeana. Email interview. February 25, 2014.
Dennis, Kim. Email interview. February 25, 2014.
National Eating Disorders Association. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. About NEDAwareness Week 2014. Web. February 26, 2014.
National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. Web. February 27, 2014.
Reviewed February 27, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith