Today marks the start of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb 26-Mar 4) and the theme this year is It's time to talk about it! So let's!
I have been involved in the treatment of Eating Disorders for over a decade. The work is compelling, challenging and deeply rewarding. I find that after telling people what I do, some share that they have known someone close to them who suffered from an eating disorder and convey the emotional impact it held. Many people know someone who have had an eating disorder, sometimes without even realizing it.
The reality is eating disorders are more prevalent than one might think. In the United States, 20 million woman and 10 million men have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011) . Compare that to 29.1 million people that in 2012 were diabetic (8.1 million of which were undiagnosed (National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014). We're talking very similar numbers here and that isn't taking into account those who haven't been diagnosed.
So, what constitutes an eating disorder? Diagnostic criteria is published by The American Psychiatric Association in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by practitioners to diagnose mental health conditions and also by insurance companies. Most people are familiar with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, but there are several other eating disorders such as Binge Eating Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), which is used when the other criteria for eating disorders are not met. Diagnoses aside, most may associate eating disorders with a preoccupation with food, calories, body weight and dieting, but they can also be exhibited by excessive exercise, drug or cigarette use to suppress appetite, laxative abuse, binge eating, stealing or hording food, or difficulty eating socially.
Eating Disorders are very complex and sometimes confusing. They cause havoc on one's mind and body. They develop from a combination of enduring behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal and social factors. Even though on the surface, eating disorders center around a preoccupation with food and body, there can be a variety of causes and underlying issues that don't relate to nutrition and body size at all. Those with eating disorders may try to use food and the control of food and their body size to cope with feelings and unmet needs that may otherwise seem intolerable. With time, eating disorder behaviors damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, sense of control, social connections and relationships. Eating Disorders have the highest death rate of all the mental health conditions and should be taken very seriously.
The good news is - recovery is possible! It takes commitment and diligence along with team of professionals: therapist, a dietitian and doctors that have eating disorder experience. The first step is talking to someone and asking for help, which may be one of the hardest and most courageous steps. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder there are people here to help. For more information on eating disorders, support, and resources visit: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is the leading non-profit organization in the US and their mission is to support individuals and families affected by eating disorders. Underscoring the importance of eating disorder awareness week, NEDA is hosting a walk on Saturday, March 4 in Santa Monica. I will be there alongside other passionate colleagues and friends to spread a message of awareness and support. If you're interested in donating to the walk feel free to contribute below. Anything helps:
Regardless if you donate or not, please share this post and let's start the conversation around eating disorder prevalence, development, treatment, and recovery.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.
National Eating Disorder Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.
Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. (2011).Epidemiology of eating disorders. In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook inPsychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.) (pp. 343-360). New York: Wiley.