Step out of the Darkness

Step out of the Darkness

Raising Awareness and Promoting Healing during Eating Disorder Week.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is observed during the last week in February to spotlight eating disorders. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness of the resources accessible to those who suffer from this mental illness. Eating disorders affect people of all ages, races, body sizes, and genders.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are the second most fatal mental illness after opioid addiction. 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. There is no single cause of an eating disorder. Rather, it is a complex combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors that can converge to set off an individual’s predisposed genetic vulnerability.

Unpacking Complex Conditions: An Inside Look at Common Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders can present themselves in various ways, and there are numerous different types. Some of the more common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder, and Pica. Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted perception of weight, and self-induced behaviors toward thinness. Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. People with bulimia will secretly eat large amounts of food, which is coupled with the loss of control, overeating, and then purging in an attempt to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way to avoid weight gain. Purging can look different for everyone. Some methods of purging include self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, weight-loss supplements, or excessive exercise and dieting.   

Binge-Eating Disorder is characterized by frequently consuming unusually large amounts of food and feeling unable to stop eating. Other associated behaviors include:

  • Eating very rapidly.
  • Eating past the point of being full.
  • Eating when not hungry.
  • Eating alone.

All of these can lead to feelings of shame and guilt. Lastly, Pica is a disorder that involves compulsively eating items that aren’t food and have no nutritional value or purpose. This disorder can cause complications, which may include toxicity, lead poisoning, intestinal obstruction, or bacterial and parasitic infections.

Recognizing the Subtle Signals

Some warning signs or symptoms of someone suffering from an eating disorder are preoccupation with weight loss, food, calories, and dieting, refusal to eat certain food groups, making excuses to avoid mealtimes, noticeable fluctuations in weight both up and down, fainting/syncope, feeling cold all the time, dry skin and hair, and brittle nails. There are numerous other signs and symptoms, and they vary across each type of eating disorder. However, the chance for recovery increases the earlier an eating disorder is detected, so it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs and symptoms. More signs and symptoms can be found on the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website.

Accessing Support and Treatment Options

Fortunately, eating disorders are a treatable mental illness. Organizations like NEDA are created to provide education, research, and support to those who suffer from eating disorders. There are agencies and therapists that can offer both inpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on the severity of the mental illness. Recovery is possible. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder or would like more information on treatment and prevention, reach out to your primary care doctor. 

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