National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in 2023

The last week in February, which spans days 20 to 26, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It’s an annual event created by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). This year, join others in spreading the word about recovery resources available to everyone. Get the conversation about eating disorders going in your community and support those in need of treatment.

Education and awareness about eating disorders are crucial because they are mental health disorders that can lead to death. Opioid misuse, for example, is a mental illness with the highest annual deaths. The second highest number of mental illness-related deaths is from eating disorders.

The more you know about eating disorders, the better you can advocate for change and help more people seek the help they deserve.

What Are Eating Disorders?

The American Psychiatric Association defines eating disorders as a change in eating behaviors caused by distressing and obsessive thoughts about weight or body image. A person with an eating disorder may also have another mental health disorder. For example, someone may have a generalized anxiety disorder and an eating disorder. Having two or more mental illnesses is referred to as co-occurring disorder.

NEDA reports that close to 29 million Americans will experience an eating disorder. 

Who Gets an Eating Disorder?

Anyone of any race and age can develop an eating disorder. There are risk factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you will have symptoms. Risk factors include:

  • Genetics or having a close family member with mental illness
  • Home environment
  • Past traumatic experiences
  • Lifestyle and influences
  • Other substance and mental health disorders
  • Self-esteem 
  • Perfectionism
  • Bullied or teased about weight
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes

What Are the Types of Eating Disorders?

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, pica, rumination disorder, laxative abuse, and compulsive exercise are eating disorders affecting millions of Americans.

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are the most common conditions.

Characteristics of anorexia nervosa include extreme weight loss due to restrictive eating, over-exercising, and a fear of gaining weight. Someone may be preoccupied with weight, food, calories, and body image.

Bulimia nervosa can involve periods of binge eating with a lack of control over what is consumed, the amount, and how fast. Someone with bulimia nervosa may incorporate unhealthy behaviors to avoid gaining weight from a binge. Examples include making themselves vomit, misusing laxatives, extreme exercise, or quit eating.

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa, except that a person does not purge after the binge. However, they experience the negative emotions of guilt and anger at themselves. Binge eating is when someone eats alone, quickly consuming unhealthy foods to the point where they feel too full or sick.

How to Treat Eating Disorders

Eating disorders have been affecting people for centuries. In that time, researchers and theorists have developed excellent treatment methods to help you recover. Most importantly, they discovered that a multi-treatment approach gives someone a higher chance of long-term success. Combining the following is recommended:

  • Behavioral or talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, teach you how your thoughts and feelings influence your actions. Negative thinking about food, weight, and your body makes you feel bad about yourself. You may respond with unhealthy eating behaviors inappropriately. A therapist can teach you how to stop negative thoughts before they become negative behaviors.
  • Physical healing must happen to recover from an eating disorder. Whether fasting, restricting calories or bingeing, your body can experience damage. Malnutrition can lead to physical and psychological changes that can interfere with daily functioning. As your physical health improves, you will think more clearly and have more energy. You can focus on what is most important, leading a healthy and happy life.
  • Medications are sometimes used at the beginning of treatment to reduce anxiety, depression, and other symptoms that can feel overwhelming and prevent you from making progress. Antidepressants are usually the first line of medicine.
  • Nutrition education is part of treatment since you must learn positive eating behaviors. Working with a dietician, you can develop an eating plan that aids nourishment for good physical and mental health.
  • Family therapy is crucial to long-term recovery. The whole family is part of the solution and can aid in helping you experience success in your journey.

Participate in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Now that you have more education about eating disorders, you can start spreading awareness in your community. Below are some tips to get you started:

  • Give the Eating Disorder Helpline contact information via text, phone call, or online chat
  •  Volunteer your time at a local treatment center, like The Mental Health Center
  • Share information about eating disorders on your social media platforms
  • Host an awareness event in-person or online
  • Start an awareness blog
  • Change a law regarding eating disorders by working with legislators 
  • If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, share your testimony
  • Join an online eating disorder group
  • Listen to podcasts on eating disorders or start one 
  • Wear purple, the color that represents eating disorder awareness
  • Donate money to an organization focused on eating disorder awareness
  • Participate in prevention activities
  • Make a resource list of online and in-person contacts where someone can reach out for help
  • Host a fundraiser for eating disorder awareness

Spreading awareness means finding ways to talk to people of all ages, from pre-teens to older adults, and includes both men and women. If you aren’t sure where to start or how you can help, reach out to a local therapist or psychiatrist for advice. You will likely discover they need volunteers for their events. One of the best activities to spread awareness is to offer free eating disorder screenings for community members.

You can recruit through advertising and marketing, and a mental health professional can administer the screening and discuss treatment options with each person. Working together, you can have a positive impact on your community.