This is a guest post from Brittany A. Malone, LPCMH, NCC
Every week I meet with clients from all over the state of Delaware. Some young, some old. Some in smaller bodies, and some in larger bodies. The one thing they all share? The pain of living with an eating disorder.
A study conducted by STRIPED with the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) and Deloitte Access Economics found that 28.8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders over their lifetime, or 9% of the population. In addition, they found that eating disorders cause 10,200 deaths annually. This is one death every 52 minutes.
The worse part is that, in many cases, they never speak about their struggles, except when they come to see me once or twice a week. It is especially difficult for me to think about those clients and others like them at this time of year. For those who have endured unnoticed, invalidated, and perhaps undiagnosed eating disorders, Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) was created especially for them.
Even though we have unlimited access to information in our world today, many of us fail to recognize eating disorders. It is also possible that we see eating disorders, but do not acknowledge their danger because they have become so normalized. I can’t say I blame anyone for that. Most people aren’t like me and don’t spend their days seeing client after client with disordered eating and hearing their stories. In the same way, I don't track the migration routes of humpback whales, so whenever I think of them, I can only hope they're doing ok.
Thankfully, EDAW offers the eating disorder community a way to continue our efforts to raise awareness, knowledge, and support.
EDAW 2023 runs from Monday, February 27th to Sunday, March 5th. The week before EDAW, we also celebrate National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. "It's Time for Change" is the theme of this year's EDAW. During this week, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) will focus on the lived experiences of people with eating disorders as well as education about eating disorders - two key steps in inspiring change.
However, things kick off during NOT ONE MORE weekend from Friday, February 24 to Sunday, February 26.
As a nation, this event comes at a most opportune time following the recent release of the newest guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics on evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. According to these new guidelines, children as young as 13 years old may benefit from treatments such as bariatric surgery.
In my role as a clinician who works with adolescents, I am overwhelmed when I consider what is to come in this field in the coming weeks and years. I never entered this field with the aim of obtaining indefinite job security. However, the AAP is determined to give it to me anyway. In my experience, enrolling a child in diet plans like Weight Watchers causes years of damage, and I am horrified to imagine what will happen if they are surgically altered to eat less before they can watch a PG-13 movie.
Yet, we must continue fighting because this is the battle ahead of us. There are many organizations and programs that are metaphorically fighting for EDAW in different ways, and allowing all of us to participate and contribute to their efforts.
Do you want to help fight eating disorders? Here are some ways you can participate during EDAW and throughout the year.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is an excellent source of information about EDAW. A petition has been drafted and released by Eating Recovery Center to the AAP to revise their recently released guidelines for children.
In communities across the nation, NEDA organizes walks to raise awareness, support, and funds for eating disorder treatment and research initiatives. National Eating Disorders Association describes their walks as the "largest eating disorders awareness events in the country."
On its events calendar, NEDA posts dates and locations of walks. It is possible to register multiple people as a team of walkers, join an existing team, or attend as an individual.
Additionally, many cities, including our own Newark, DE, are hosting educational events designed to educate the public about these disorders and treatment options. The event will be hosted by Sharon Collison of the University of Delaware (firstname.lastname@example.org) and is open to students and the community.
Education and Support
These organizations offer free resources for people to educate themselves about eating disorders and to receive support if they’re affected by eating disorders.
On its YouTube channel, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) hosts informational webinars about various topics related to eating disorders. Check out ANAD's discussion of different aspects of living with eating disorders, such as how to overcome stigma.
Online Support Groups
For people affected by eating disorders, the Eating Recovery Center (ERC) offers free weekly virtual support groups. ERC's support groups are led by trained facilitators and include:
Recovery from binge eating
Caregivers of children and teens with eating disorders
People who love and care for adults who suffer from eating disorders
Clinicians in eating disorder recovery
College students and young adults
Members of the LGBTQ+ community
People of color
Those with addictive behaviors
Volunteer Opportunities and Other Ways to Help
Would you like to join the fight against eating disorders in a hands-on way? You can get involved in these organizations in a number of ways.
For example, you can apply to volunteer or intern for NEDA and help fight eating
disorders. NEDA volunteers and interns help by organizing walks or operating NEDA's helpline, which helps people find resources, support, and treatment options.
In addition to training for volunteer opportunities, ANAD also offers peer helpline and peer mentorship training for people in recovery.