In a time when diet culture is becoming more prevalent and people are obsessing over their body images more than ever before, eating disorders seem to be on the rise. It is reported that the annual number of eating disorder cases worldwide have doubled over the past 18 years (between 2000 and 2018).
This comes to show how crucial it is to shed light on eating disorders and better understand what they really are.
Eating disorders were first classified as a mental illness back in the 1980’s when they were included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). What eating disorders essentially do is significantly affect a person’s relationship with food and their own body. A person with an eating disorder tends to become obsessed with their weight and the need to control their food intake.
“Turning to control and restricting food intake or becoming addicted to binging and purging is always a symptom or effect of an underlying feeling that the person lives with. It is usually some unresolved feeling related to low self-esteem, lack of worth, or repressed trauma. People turn to the attempt at controlling food intake or eating their emotions instead of dealing with the underlying problem, if untreated.” - Anna Hindell, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist based in New York
One of the main things that many do not understand is that just like any other mental illness, eating disorders can happen to anyone. And while the cause of eating disorders is still unclear, a person’s environment, experiences, and genes play a role in its development. Not only that but eating disorders can also stem as a result of another mental illness.
The psychological, biological and social aspects of a person’s life greatly contribute to whether or not they develop an eating disorder.
Acknowledging what eating disorders are and the major consequences living with one entails is imperative to determining how we can help people grow through it. The problems that eating disorders cause do not only impact the person’s psychological wellbeing. In fact, t is reported that eating disorders can cause cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and endocrine problems.
That is because binge eating, starvation, purging and excessive exercise can significantly impact our bodies and tremendously affect the quality of one’s life. Furthermore, in some cases eating disorders can even be life threatening. It is said that around 10,200 people die because of an eating disorder each year, whereas annually 53,918 and 23,560 are admitted to the ER and hospitalized, respectively.
These alarming numbers should be more than enough to emphasize the need to raise awareness and intervene. Just like any other mental illness, early diagnosis of eating disorders increases the chances of recovery and leading a healthier life. And to further increase awareness and educate people about eating disorders and the significant impact it can have on someone's life, institutes across the globe have created campaigns to talk about eating disorders.
For instance, UK’s eating disorder charity, Beat, started the Eating Disorders Awareness Week which starts on February 28th and ends on March 6th as a way to highlight the gravity of eating disorders, empower people to take action, and remind those suffering that they are not alone.
“ I am all for support for all eating disorders because I have struggled with them for a long time but seeing awareness for binge eating disorder is so important to me, especially in a society that judges you on your size.” - Beat supporter
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has also started the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week), which takes between February 21st and 27th, to support those living with an eating disorder and their families. With 20 years of tirelessly working on raising awareness, the theme for this year’s NEDAwareness Week is See the Change, Be the Change.
With this theme, NEDA is calling on people to recognize the change that they have helped create and encouraging them to become part of it to reach and help even more people.
Raising awareness and speaking up is instrumental to saving lives and reminding people that they are not alone. This can only happen through educating ourselves with what eating disorders really are and realizing that breaking the stigma and creating a safe space for everyone to seek help is essential.
Talking can save a life, so be part of the conversation.
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