February 23rd kicks off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW), a time when people across the country shine a spotlight on eating disorders in order to educate, spread a message of hope and recovery, and provide lifesaving resources to those in need.

Eating disorders affect over 30 million Americans and have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. Unfortunately, misinformation about these disorders and the people they affect is still spreading, and NEDAW is the perfect time to correct people’s beliefs and perceptions about these deadly illnesses. For the duration of NEDAW, The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) joins forces with communities across the nation to raise awareness though local events, legislative advocacy, social media campaigns, and more.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders (EDs) are complicated mental illnesses that cause irrational and excessive anxiety about body image, eating, and weight gain, which can can lead to unhealthy and potentially fatal behavior. The most common eating disorders are Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Body image issues that result in EDs usually arise from weight-related bullying or abuse.

There is a common stereotype that life-threatening eating disorders only affect a certain portion of the population, specifically teenage girls and young women. However, research from the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that children as young as 3 years old can recognize the beauty standard of unhealthy thinness portrayed in mass media, as body image development begins during the preschool years.

In a 2011 study, researchers found that as many as 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point during their lives. A study from the British Eating Disorders Charity found that 25% of people diagnosed with an ED are men, while a poll from the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 33% of male teenagers used unhealthy behaviors to control their weight.

Of the stereotype that EDs only affect adolescent young women, Claire Mysko, CEO of the NEDA, told Teen Vogue, “That [stereotype] doesn’t match up with the reality of who struggles. People of all ages, gender, sizes, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses struggle with eating disorders. The myths about eating disorders are really a barrier for people reaching out for help.”

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is one of the top three most common eating disorders, affecting 4.7 million women and 1.5 million men in the US across their lifetimes. Like many EDs, bulimia causes the development of a distorted view of how one’s body and weight affect their self-worth, manifesting in many destructive symptoms. Bulimia is characterized by engaging in behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as excessive exercise, forced vomiting, and misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas, while also feeling no control over these behaviors.

Perhaps the most well-known symptom of Bulimia is binge eating. Binge eating episodes are characterized by eating an amount of food that is significantly larger than most people would eat during a discrete period of time and a sense of no control over the eating. These behaviors usually manifest at least once a week for three months in Bulimia patients.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa, another common eating disorder, is also one of the most difficult to treat. According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc., only 60% of those with anorexia make a full recovery with the help of treatment, while 3% of people in anorexia treatment die from the disorder. The company also reports that 20% of those in treatment make a partial recovery, while the remaining 20% remain dangerously underweight for most of their lives, frequenting emergency rooms, inpatient hospital units, and mental health clinics.

Those struggling with anorexia are not able to maintain a normal weight for their age and height due to an extreme fear of weight gain, even if they’re already severely underweight. This fear is usually due to a disturbance in the way in which one perceives their body weight or shape and/or a denial of the seriousness of current low body weight. Left untreated, people with anorexia may never be able to acknowledge the seriousness of their weight issues, leading to lifelong problems with body image.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

On average, people struggling with eating disorders wait 149 weeks before seeking treatment. That’s almost three years! Early intervention has proven key to ED recovery, and NEDAW plays a crucial role in educating people on the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder in order to empower people to take action now.

NEDAW has been observed for over 30 years, encouraging people across the country to focus on eating disorder support and advocacy. NEDAW offers supportive and informative events such as resource fairs, community walks, and conferences. The 2020 NEDAW slogan is “Come as You Are: Hindsight is 20/20,” encouraging communities to embrace themselves while reflecting on the positive steps they’ve taken towards that. For more information on NEDAW and how to get involved, visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness/resources.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, visit our website to find out how Brain Forest Centers can help you today. At Brain Forest Centers, we believe that better health starts in your brain and, using neurofeedback therapy, we help to treat a slew of symptoms caused by improper brain function. We are here to help you get on the path to better health today!