Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), aims to start conversations with a variety of communities of people who may struggle with eating disorders. This year’s theme is Come as You Are, which highlights the message to people at all stages of eating disorders recovery and body acceptance that their stories are valid. But, what are eating disorders? According the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders are “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors” and “may affect a person’s physical and mental health; in some cases, they can be life-threatening.” Signs of an eating disorder may include an obsession with food, body weight, and shape. Anyone can be affected by an eating disorder; although they often appear during the teen years or early adulthood, they may also develop during childhood or after the age of 40. Their exact cause is not fully understood. Research suggests a combination of biological, behavioral, genetic, social, and psychological factors can raise a person’s risk.
There is a variety of eating disorders. However, the most common types include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height. People with this eating disorder may have a fear of weight gain, may diet or exercise too much, or use other methods to lose weight. People with bulimia may binge food or have regular episodes of overeating. Then, they use different methods, such as abusing laxatives or vomiting, to prevent weight gain. Many people with bulimia also have anorexia nervosa. According to MentalHealth.gov, binge eating is “when a person eats a much larger amount of food in a shorter period of time” than they normally would. When a person binge eats, they may also feel a loss of control.
Treatments and therapies are available for people with eating disorders. Treatment is tailored to a person’s needs and may include individual, group, and/or family therapy, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling, and medications. These treatments may help the person receive adequate nutrition, reduce excessive exercise, and stopping purging behaviors.
Do you or someone you know have an eating disorder and don’t know where to get help? If the situation is life threatening, please get immediate emergency assistance by calling 911. If you are looking for treatment services, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline by calling 877/726-4727. If you would like to learn more about eating disorders and what research is available in NARIC’s collection, please contact NARIC’s information specialists by email, chat, or by calling 800/346-2742.