KEY POINTS

  • Eating disorders are serious mental health health illnesses
  • About 30 million people in the U.S. are living with an eating disorder
  • Below are some facts to raise awareness on NEDAwareness week 2021

Feb. 22 to 28 mark the National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week. It is the perfect time to educate the public about mental health conditions and to spread hope.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), several million people are affected by an eating disorder at any given time. In general, eating disorders are marked by "severe disturbances" in a person's eating behaviors and not just during the moment when they are eating.

"People with eating disorders typically become pre-occupied with food and their body weight," the APA explained.

Those with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, for instance, tend to feel "fat" or overweight even to the point of semi-starvation.

There are three main types of eating disorders, according to the APA. These are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is marked by the severe restriction of food, while bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by behaviors to compensate for it, for instance by vomiting or using laxatives.

Binge-eating disorder, on the other hand, is a condition wherein a person has episodes of eating a large quantity of food in a brief period, often without control. A marked difference between bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, the APA explained, is that people with binge-eating disorder don't try to get rid of the food they binged. 

People tend to have their own ideas of how eating disorders look like. On NEDAwareness Week, let's have a look at some facts about eating disorders to have a clearer picture of them, courtesy of the APA, DoSomething.org, Mental Health America (MHA) and Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital:

Eating Disorders Aren't Just For Women

While eating disorders are more common in females, they can actually affect anyone from all genders and races. In fact, DoSomething.org noted that among teenagers aged 13 to 18, 1 in 5 with bulimia nervosa and 1 in 4 with anorexia nervosa are male.

The assumption that men don't really get eating disorders may be quite dangerous, too. The National Eating Disorder Association's (NEDA) statistics on eating disorders show that men, who make up 25% of people with anorexia nervosa, have a higher risk of dying from the condition. According to the organization, this may partly be because of the wrong assumption that leads them to get diagnosed later. 

Even children and adolescents may also develop eating disorders. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital noted that it is actually the third most chronic illness among adolescents.

Eating Disorders Are Mental Health Illnesses

Eating disorders are not just fad diets or lifestyle choices. They are serious mental health illnesses that can affect a person's life beyond their eating habits. And just like with any other mental illness, people with eating disorders can't just "get over it." 

Those with the condition need proper, professional help. For the three most common eating disorders, the APA noted that general medical care, psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and nutritional management should be included in a patient's treatment plan.

Eating Disorders Can Affect The Health Beyond Body Weight

Although it is often bodyweight that people think of when it comes to eating disorders, these conditions can have other adverse health effects. For instance, females who have eating disorders may stop having their periods, while affected males can have low testosterone levels.

The APA also noted that those with bulimia nervosa might even experience inflamed and sore throat, gastrointestinal problems, tooth decay from exposure to the stomach acids and severe dehydration.

In children, eating disorders may lead to anemia, bleeding disorders and poor immune function, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital noted. And if they haven't yet reached puberty, they can also experience slow growth.

Overall, if left untreated, eating disorders may result in heart problems, malnutrition and other possibly fatal conditions, the APA said.

Eating Disorders Can Be Life-Consuming

As mentioned, eating disorders affect more than just a person's eating habits. They add significant stress to a person's life. According to the APA, eating disorders often occur along with other disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and panic disorders.

Eating disorders may also impact how a person functions in school or at work and their relationship with the people around them.

"Thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors regarding weight and food issues are constant for those with eating disorders, and it can make it impossible to live a normal life," MHA said.

They Can Also Be Life-Threatening

Given the strain that eating disorders can put on people's health, they can actually be life-threatening. In fact, among mental health disorders, eating disorders have the highest risk of death. According to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, as high as 20% of people with anorexia nervosa can die if their condition is not treated.

Despite the seriousness of the mental health conditions discussed above and the millions of people afflicted by them, eating disorders are still among the least funded, MHA noted. In 2018, for instance, research projects on eating disorders received $38 million in funding, while those of depression and anxiety disorder got $500 million and  $213 million, respectively.

Not Everyone Gets The Help They Need

About 30 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder, 10 million of whom are men, DoSomething.org noted. Unfortunately, just 1 in 10 of them actually get treated for the condition.

What's more, even if the rates of eating disorders are similar among non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians in the U.S., NEDA statistics noted that people of color are often less likely to receive help for their condition.

There Is Hope

According to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, 60% of patients with an eating disorder can make a full recovery with proper treatment. But, as mentioned, not everyone gets the help they need, which involves taking care of the physical conditions and psychological aspects.

What's important to remember, MHA said, is that recovery from an eating disorder is possible. And events such as NEDAwareness week can help raise awareness about the conditions and hopefully encourage those afflicted to get help.

Whether it's by posting about the event with #NEDAwareness on social media, sharing your own story about an eating disorder, or simply supporting those who share theirs, this week's event is an excellent time to join the mission of raising awareness and spreading hope.

"In a field where marginalized communities continue to be underrepresented, we welcome conversations on raising awareness, challenging systemic biases, and sharing stories from all backgrounds and experiences," NEDA said. "Let's build a movement to raise awareness and support those affected by eating disorders!"

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