This is National Eating Disorder week and there are many different types of eating disorders – Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, along with binge eating disorders to name a few. Disordered eaters fixate on food, exercise, restriction, anything and everything that can affect their size and weight. These disorders take over a person’s thoughts, habits and their life. This may have you convinced that in order for someone to have an eating disorder they must be morbidly thin, but this is not always true. Many people of all weights struggle with food, body image and society pressures to be thin.
There’s a whole group of people that fall just off the radar of having “eating disorders” because they might not fit the strict criteria. These people are often labeled as EDONS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). When a person is struggling with eating disorder thoughts, feelings or behaviors, but does not have all the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia, that person may be diagnosed with EDNOS. Their behaviors or symptoms would include but are not limited to meeting all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa. Despite significant weight loss, the individual’s current weight is in the “normal” range, or meeting all of the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa, except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory mechanisms occur at a frequency of less than twice a week or for a duration of less than three months. These examples provide an idea of the variety of ways in which disordered eating can look when a person has EDNOS. However, this list of examples does not provide a complete picture of the many different ways that eating disorder symptoms can occur.
With raising awareness about eating disorders this week, it is important that we don’t “label” someone as to whether or not they may have a serious condition based on their looks or their frequency of abnormal habits. In fact, many more individuals suffer from EDNOS than from bulimia and anorexia combined, according to www.nami.oirg, and the risks related with having EDNOS are just as dangerous as with anorexia or bulimia because many people with EDNOS engage in the same risky, damaging behaviors seen in other eating disorders.
Signs to look for include a constant concern about food and weight, behaviors restricting eating or compensate for eating (such as exercise or purging). Signs of binging include the disappearance of large amounts of food, long periods of eating, and more. Typically, these individuals have many rules about food and thus preoccupation about eating times, amounts, and more. Some of these are disguised by fad diets that perpetuate disordered eating. Risks of eating disorders include many health and dental complications including severe mood swings, depression, lack of energy, tooth decay, fainting, and headaches, along with more serious complications including organ failure, heart attack and death.
We can learn the difference between facts and myths about weight, nutrition and exercise. If you suspect someone is suffering from an eating disorder, listen openly, be patient and non-judgmental. Inquire if they are willing to explore these concerns with a professional who understands eating disorders. Especially during Covid-19, telehealth and tele-counseling might be a perfect option for those seeking support. Don’t add to their pressures or break their trust by invading privacy. Don’t demand weight changes and insisting the person eat every type of food you do. What you can do, is do your best to not make the eating disorder the topic of every conversation. If a friend or loved one has an eating disorder, that doesn’t take away their need to also just want to be loved and listened to by their friends and family.
You can help prevent eating disorders not only by raising awareness, but also by being open and accepting of all body types, promoting healthy food habits and not putting a value on how “thin” someone is, including yourself! Don’t shame people who are thin and assume they have disordered eating, the same way we don’t want to shame those with other body types either. Be a healthy role model to show that all foods are “safe” in moderation, and that balanced exercise is also a key part in a healthy lifestyle. Our self-worth and the self-worth of our youth are not determined by a size or being “thin.” Help prevent eating disorders by recognizing all bodies deserve to be healthy. “Healthy is in.”
Director Of The Wellness Center