February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and this week is National Eating Disorder Week (NEDW). The National Eating Disorders Association (NED https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness ) shares this about NEDW, “It is an annual campaign to educate the public about the realities of eating disorders and to provide hope, support, and visibility to individuals and families affected by eating disorders.” In addition, this year’s theme is, “See the Change, Be the Change,” including, “Week 2022 is an opportunity to #SeeTheChange by recognizing change within the ever-evolving eating disorders field, and to #BeTheChange through advocacy, awareness, and community building.”
Starting with some facts:
- Approximately 30 million Americans live with an eating disorder. (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders)
- Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females in the United States. (International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 2007)
- 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. (National Eating Disorders Association)
- The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders is highest among those with a binge eating disorder (5.5% compared to 2% for bulimia and 1.2% for anorexia). (Biological Psychiatry, 2007)
- The NEDA Helpline has experienced a 107% increase in contacts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With almost 10% of Americans living with an eating disorder, this should be alarming! Eating disorders don’t grab the attention of the media and headlines as other illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, or Covid-19. Not to mention that many people also suffer from eating disorders but do not fulfill all the demographics to be diagnosed properly or go undiagnosed altogether, meaning it’s much more likely that there’s more than 10% of people living with an eating disorder in the United States. Eating Disorders are damaging, dangerous, and in some cases deadly. Therefore, it’s vital that we start to see the change and be the change, right now!
Eating disorders are not diets, cleanses, or get slim quick gimmicks, although they can start that way. Anyone can develop an eating disorder and they can start at any time. For some, they are much more likely to develop this disease depending on the influences of people around them, family history, emotional disorders, and repeated dieting is a risk factor too. Our culture supports and reinforces this by making sure that smaller bodies are rewarded, spotlighted, and glamorized. The reality is people who lose weight are often reinforced by positive comments from others and who doesn’t like positive attention, more likes on their social media posts, and all the great compliments? This can cause people to take dieting too far, leading to an eating disorder. How? Eating disorders are often the sign of something else that is also co-occurring in someone’s life. Transitions and Change can bring emotional distress, which may increase your susceptibility to an eating disorder. Trauma also plays a large factor in many people with eating disorders, from current trauma to past trauma that can bring on, bring back, transform, or increase their disordered behaviors.
Someone doesn’t have to “look,” any specific way to have an eating disorder. Most importantly, someone doesn’t have to look “skinny,” to be struggling. Eating disorders come in all sizes, genders, ages, and so on. An eating disorder is an illness that causes disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food, extreme overeating, and in some cases purging. Anyone of any size can suffer from this. Severe anxiety or concern about body weight or size can also illustrate an eating disorder even though the person may look “healthy.” And if we aren’t careful, we applaud people on their eating disorders as a sign of achievement, instead of “seeing” the changes in them, and offering what they really may need more than anything else – support.
In a time where “thin is in,” and many people are trying to keep up with society’s demands of what is “beautiful,” eating disorders are at an all-time high. Many people had changes in their eating patterns and lifestyle habits in general while living in this new era of Covid. For some these past few years may have been healing and for others, it spiked an increase in illness. If you know someone who is suffering from an eating disorder or think someone is showing warning signs, remember this is a sensitive topic. Do your best to meet them with care. Encourage them to seek treatment, because you care about them, and you care about their health. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are true illnesses that have severe health complications that can result in death. When someone has a true fear of food or gaining weight, it’s not a diet, these are serious warning signs because disorders aren’t diets.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you aren’t alone. At least 1 in 10 of the people around you are too, and there are so many resources to help you! Will you let someone help you? If so, reach out. Talk to someone you trust, your physician, a friend, clergy, workplace EAP services, all of those will hopefully have an empathic ear and be able to refer you to the right places. There are many websites that offer information, support groups, one-on-one help, and more. You can also reach out to Northeast Kingdom Human Services, 802-334-6744, or even call NEDA, at 800-931-2237.
If we think about it, this year’s theme of seeing and being the change is simple and yet challenging. It’s hard to change, but now is the time to look forward to a future where there is more support for all eating disorders. We can BE that change when we let go of misconceptions, and societal pressures about food, bodies, and obsessions with diet culture, to bring awareness that eating disorders are real. They are dangerous and sometimes deadly. We can dismantle “thin privilege” and see people for who they are more than what they look like, and that will be hard for some people. Some people have a prejudice against bigger/smaller bodies, against bodies that they don’t want to look like, or maybe even used to look like. This needs to change. How can you help to see the change and be the change in real-time? You can appreciate each body, for being just that, a body. A place in which we all live for only a short period of time.
Can we see a future of change? Can we be the future of change? #SEETHECHANGE #BETHECHANGE
Director of The Wellness Center