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Home > > Health & WellnessNational Eating Disorders Awareness Week

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 27 through March 5.

Are you or someone you love, affected by an eating disorder?

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as unhealthy and severe restrictions in eating, as well as binge eating, purging, and distress over body shape and weight. Society's current fashion encourages many to feel that the "perfect body" is one that is much leaner than what the "normal weight charts" would dictate. Recently in the news, there has been criticism about the body style of models in fashion magazines, with some suggesting that models who are too thin, should no longer be used.

Even though millions of Americans are overweight, there remain a lot of social pressure to diet and the "ideal body type" is to be thin. Many who develop eating disorders start out dieting to lose weight, but begin to lose their perspective about food, body image and healthy eating habits along the way. Girls and women comprise about 85% of all who develop eating disorders. Boys and men are not immune from eating disorders, but comprise a smaller sample of the total, around 15%.

Anorexia and Bulimia

Anorexia is an illness of severely restricted eating. It often develops in adolescence or early adulthood. Anorexia can be life-threatening as it involves starvation and often leads to weights 15% below the "normal" weight for that individual. Problems for individuals with extremely low body weight can include the cessation of menstrual periods for women, unbalanced body chemistry leading to dizziness, fainting and heart problems, kidney failure, and distortion in thinking about one's own body (for example believing that you are grossly obese when in fact, you are skeletally thin). Anorexics may also purge (vomit, use laxatives and diuretics) and use exercise in order to prevent themselves from gaining weight. Anorexics often are depressed and are at increased risk for suicide. They may also suffer damage to internal organs due to starvation which can result in death.

Bulimia may also begin with a "diet gone terribly wrong". Bulimia may involve binging on large quantities of food and then purging, by using laxatives and diuretics (water pills) or by vomiting. Bulimics may hide this type of behavior from others and can be underweight, normal weight or even overweight. Like the anorexic, bulimics are often obsessive about their weight. Sometimes bulimia is identified by dentists who may notice an unusual pattern of tooth decay in the patient. Stomach acid can erode the tooth enamel! Binging and purging can lead to imbalance in body chemistry as well, increasing the risk of many health problems.

Currently, the American Psychiatric Association is looking at a third type of eating disorder, Compulsive Overeating, as a possible new category in the classification of mental disorders. This diagnosis has not yet been added as an illness.

Eating Disorders Require Treatment

The earlier these disorders can be identified and treated, the more successful the outcome will be for the individual and families affected. Treatment often involves a team of professionals, including physicians, nutritionists, trained therapists and support groups. The first concern must be to help the individual regain weight if they are dangerously underweight, while monitoring body functions to make sure that the deprived organs are working properly. Eating disorders tend to be intense for the affected individual, and treatment will often equal that intensity.

For help and treatment options for eating disorders, HAP and AHL members can contact Coordinated Behavioral Health Management at 1-800-444-5755.

For more information on eating disorders, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

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