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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Eating disorders are the focus of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW), which takes place annually during the last week of February. In particular, it's a campaign to educate the public about eating disorders as well as to offer hope, support, and visibility to people living with them.

In addition to raising awareness, NEDAW is a rallying cry for change, and a call to action as well. While awareness has increased, stigma and misinformation still pose significant barriers. After all, some people are embarrassed or fear seeking help due to shame, while others are unable to identify and acknowledge their own struggles.

It is possible to take the NEDA screening tool online at NEDA's website. However, in the event that you or someone you know might be suffering from an eating disorder, please seek the help of a mental health professional

Facing the Numbers

The prevalence of eating disorders is much higher than many people realize. There is no denying the stark reality revealed by statistics:

  • It is estimated that 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetimes, representing 9% of the U.S. population.

  • It is estimated that one in three young adults suffers from an eating disorder.

  • As far as mental illnesses go, anorexia has the highest case mortality rate and the second-highest crude mortality rate.

  • Each year, eating disorders result in 10,200 deaths, or one death every 52 minutes.

  • Those with the most severe eating disorder symptoms are 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than those without eating disorder symptoms.

  • There is an annual economic cost of $64.7 billion associated with eating disorders.

Suffice it to say, a staggering number of people, families, and communities are affected by EDs on a daily basis.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Sadly, eating disorders are often misunderstood and stigmatized. There is often a misconception that they are choices made by vain people obsessed with their weight and appearance

However, this couldn't be further from the truth.

Although eating disorders may begin with food and weight preoccupations, they are usually much more complicated than that.

An eating disorder can be caused by a variety of factors, including long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. It is still unclear how these emotionally and physically destructive conditions are caused. It has been discovered, however, that various factors contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Psychological triggers.

Interpersonal factors.

  • Relationships and family issues that are problematic.

  • Emotional and psychological difficulties.

  • Being teased or ridiculed for your size or weight in the past.

  • A history of abuse, either physical or sexual.

Social influences.

  • Pressure from cultural norms to achieve the perfect body and glorify thinness.

  • Definitions of beauty that exclude women and men of different body shapes and sizes.

  • Norms valuing physical appearance over inner strength and qualities.

Additionally, people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, body shapes, and socioeconomic backgrounds suffer from EDs.

Males, for example, account for 25% of individuals who have anorexia nervosa and are at a higher risk of dying from it, partly because males are often diagnosed later than females because many people assume males do not suffer from an eating disorder

However, this is especially prevalent in minority groups such as LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC. For instance, LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to have an eating disorder than heterosexuals. The chances of LGBT+ youth developing an eating disorder are three times greater than those of straight peers, with homosexual girls four times more likely and homosexual boys six times more likely.

Eating disorders can also manifest in various forms, including:

  • Anorexia nervosa. An eating disorder that restricts food and gives you distorted ideas about your body.

  • Bulimia nervosa. An eating disorder marked by bingeing and purging cycles.

  • Binge eating disorder. It is characterized by uncontrollable eating episodes that occur repeatedly.

  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). As a result of sensory sensitivities, negative past experiences, or avoidant behavior, significant limitations in food intake are noted.

It is each individual's experience that shapes their challenges and contributing factors. Trauma, social pressures, genetic predispositions, and mental health conditions can all have an effect. Rather than making judgments and generalizations, it's important to approach each case with empathy and understanding.

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the silence is the first step towards creating an environment where everyone feels empowered and safe in their bodies. To prevent people from seeking help for eating disorders, we need to speak openly and honestly about them.

In order to accomplish this, everyone must play a part:

  • Individuals. There is no reason you should feel alone if you are suffering from an eating disorder. Consider reaching out to friends, family, professionals, or online communities, such as the National Alliance for Eating Disorders and the Eating Disorder Foundation (EDF) for support. Additionally, you should make self-care a priority. It is possible to recover, and you deserve a life free of the shackles of eating disorders.

  • Friends and Family. Provide a listening ear and non-judgmental support. Additionally, you can learn how to discuss eating disorders with compassion and understanding by educating yourself. Also, be a source of strength during recovery and encourage professional help.

  • Media and Social Media. Diversity and body positivity should be promoted. However, avoid focusing solely on weight and appearance and perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards. It is also important to be aware of the language used and to challenge harmful narratives.

  • Medical Professionals. Healthcare providers should become more aware and knowledgeable about eating disorders. Provide culturally competent care to all individuals and ensure access to specialized treatment.

  • Policymakers. Support initiatives that increase research, prevention, and treatment funding. Moreover, mental health awareness policies must be supported as well as policies to facilitate equitable and inclusive access to mental health care.

Beyond NEDAW

It is important to raise awareness of eating disorders beyond NEDAW, but the fight goes far beyond that. To foster a culture of understanding and support, we must continue the conversation throughout the year.

Staying engaged throughout the year can be done in several ways:

  • You can donate to organizations such as NEDA, ANAD, and FEAST.

  • Contribute your time and skills to the awareness and advocacy of eating disorders.

  • Help break the stigma by sharing your experiences.

  • Take a proactive approach to educating yourself and others about eating disorders.

  • Engage in body positivity and challenge weight stigma.

  • You can provide support and encouragement to family and friends who are struggling.

It is important to remember that every individual is deserving of respect and compassion. The more we speak up and take action together, the more likely it is that everyone will feel comfortable and empowered in their own skin.

It is time to end the silence about eating disorders, challenge harmful stereotypes, and create a future where eating disorders will no longer be able to hold individuals at bay.


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