February: Eating Disorders Awareness

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Pledge with us to be aware of the lived experiences of your friends, family, and loved ones, and to always be kind in all of your interactions.

February: National Eating Disorders Awareness

The last week of February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an annual campaign to educate the public about the realities of eating disorders and provide support for individuals and families affected.

According to ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders), about 30 million Americans suffer from some sort of eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious, holding the record for having the highest mortality rate when compared to other mental illnesses. Someone dies of an eating disorder every 62 minutes.

Eating disorders are complex, and experts don’t really know what causes them. But they may be due to a mix of genetics, family behaviors, social factors and personality traits.

Many people who have an eating disorder come from families in which other members have eating disorders or have other conditions such as depression. This doesn’t mean that a family member caused the disorder. It simply means that these conditions seem more likely to happen in that family.

While there are many types of eating disorders, the most common include:

  • Anorexia nervosa, which causes a person to eat very little because of an intense fear of gaining weight. People who have it severely restrict their food intake and can become dangerously thin. If it goes on for a long time, it can cause serious health problems or even death.
  • Bulimia nervosa, which causes people to eat a large amount of food in a short time (binge). Then, in order to prevent weight gain, they do something to get rid of the food (purge), like vomit, exercise too much, or take laxatives.
  • Binge eating disorder, when a person often eats large amounts of food in a short time. People who have it feel out of control and may eat until they are painfully full. Unlike people with bulimia, they don’t vomit or try other ways to get rid of calories after a binge

What should you do if you suspect someone has an eating disorder? Talk to him or her. Tell the person how much you care and why you are worried. You should also urge him or her to talk to someone who can help, like a doctor or counselor. Offer to go along. And tell someone who can make a difference, like a parent, teacher, counselor, or doctor.

When a loved one has an eating disorder, it is also important that you show your support and love, and avoid the temptation to control them. You can also help by not urging them to eat or not eat, unless it is part of their treatment plan. Listen to their feelings and avoid comparisons with other people.

Counseling can be a big help to everyone in your family. But remember, like other mental disorders and illnesses, eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that require professional treatment from a diverse team of experts, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nutritionists and primary care physicians. In severe cases, inpatient care may be necessary.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, you can find help and resources. The sooner your friend or loved one gets help, the sooner she will be healthy again.

Thank you for taking the #DoseofWellness pledge. The journey to wellness begins with staying aware and encouraging conversations around eating disorders.

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