This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 22-28). This week is dedicated to bringing awareness about eating disorders, and to help break down the stigma associated with seeking treatment. Eating disorders are closely tied between emotional and physical health. They are classified as a group of related conditions which can cause serious emotional and physical problems. The conditions involve extreme food and weight issues.
Eating disorders affect several million people at any given time. Most often women between the ages of 12 and 35. It is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. One person dies from an eating disorder every 52 minutes. And only 30% of people in the US who suffer from an eating disorder will seek treatment. Many people who struggle with eating disorders experience a co-occurring condition, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are different types of eating disorders. These disorders impact a person physically and mentally. Some common eating disorders are:
Anorexia Nervosa. People with anorexia will deny themselves food to the point of starvation and obsess about weight loss. Some emotional symptoms of this will include irritability and withdrawal, lack of emotion, unable to understand the seriousness of their situation, as well as fear of eating in public, and may obsess about food and exercise. When a person doesn’t have enough food intake their body can slow down and cause irregularities in their menstrual cycle, have low blood pressure, become dehydrated, and even have difficulty sleeping.
Bulimia Nervosa. People with bulimia will binge large amounts of food, and then vomit it up. Emotional symptoms of this include low self-esteem, feeling out of control, and feeling shame about eating. Binging and purging can damage parts of the body involved, lead to dehydration, and even cause heart failure.
Binge Eating Disorder. People with binge eating disorder will lose control over their eating and eat a very large amount of food in a short period of time even if they are uncomfortably full. Emotionally they may feel embarrassed, guilty, or depressed.
All eating disorders have food and weight issues in common. Experts believe eating disorders are caused by people attempting to cope with overwhelming feelings and painful emotions by controlling food. Genetics, environment, peer pressure, and emotional health are all factors that can be involved in developing an eating disorder. Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect people of any age or gender. Some other risk factors include family history, dieting, experience a major life change, or a person involved in different activities.
Recovery is possible. Treatment varies based on the type of disorder a person has. Often a person with an eating disorder will have another mental health condition that may require treatment as well. Both a doctor and mental health professional will conduct a psychological evaluation. Treatment could include therapy, taking medication, or nutritional counseling and weight restoration monitoring.
If you have concern about the eating habits of a friend or loved one, follow these tips. Ultimately, letting them know you care about them and showing compassion may encourage them to seek help. You can also contact the National Eating Disorder Helpline at (800) 931-2237.
Jill Haupts, Outreach Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Jill Haupts is the Outreach Coordinator at The Kim Foundation. She received her bachelor’s degree in Child, Adult, and Family Services from Iowa State University in 2016. Jill joined the Kim Foundation in January of 2020, coming from Des Moines, Iowa. Her previous experience includes volunteer recruitment and fundraising, as well as experience coordinating services and providing resources to adults who have a mental health diagnosis. Jill’s role in the foundation is coordinating event logistics, presenting and attending community fairs, as well as volunteer coordination and recruitment. She enjoys working in the nonprofit field and has a passion for advocacy and helping others.