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February 20: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

February 20, 2023, begins National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The intention of this week is not only to spread awareness about what various eating disorders entail but to encourage those who are struggling with an eating disorder to seek help. It is also a time to inform the friends and family members of those who struggle about how they can best support their loved ones.

Eating disorders are very dangerous and can lead to severe health problems. Some people struggle with eating disorders and substance use disorders (SUDs) simultaneously, which can be even more dangerous.

What Are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?

There is more than one type of eating disorder, and each disorder can present itself differently from person to person. Some people show virtually no outside signs, while with others the signs can be more obvious. It’s important to be able to know what to look for.

Anorexia Nervosa

One of the most common forms of an eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. Those who struggle with this disorder often have a skewed vision of their weight and outward appearance. They view themselves as overweight when they actually aren’t. As a result, they obsessively try to lose weight through excessive exercise, calorie counting, and food restriction. In many cases, they obsess over every calorie that enters their body and weigh themselves frequently.

No matter much weight they may lose, the person often feels as if it is never enough. Anorexia can have both short and long-term health consequences. These consequences can intensify the longer that the condition goes on without being treated. Some consequences can become life-threatening.

The health risks associated with anorexia include:

  • Hair loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Stomach pains
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Brittle bones
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Fertility problems
  • Depression
  • Kidney and liver damage

Bulimia Nervosa

As with anorexia nervosa, individuals with bulimia nervosa also have a skewed vision of their weight and use desperate means to stay thin. The main difference is that those who struggle with bulimia have periods of binge eating when they eat more than they typically would. After a binge-eating session, they then purge in order to avoid gaining weight. This is often done by forcing oneself to vomit or using laxatives.

Since the individual is typically staying around the same weight, it can be hard to notice that someone is struggling with bulimia.

This eating disorder can lead to serious digestive issues and other problems. Some examples include:

  • Cardiac problems
  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Persisting acid reflux
  • Tooth decay caused by stomach acids coming up from vomiting frequently
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Ulcers
  • Pancreatitis

Binge-Eating Disorder

As with bulimia, individuals who struggle with a binge-eating disorder also often engage in periods where they eat a lot of food over a short period of time. Sometimes, they will eat even to the point of stuffing themselves. The primary difference is that those with this type of disorder don’t force themselves to purge. As a result, they can put on weight quickly and risk becoming obese.

People who struggle with binge-eating disorder often turn to food to cope with stress, sadness, or other negative emotions.

Some health consequences associated with binge-eating disorder include:

  • Dangerous weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher risk of developing diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol levels

Recognizing the Signs of Someone Struggling With an Eating Disorder

Some people can hide the signs of their eating disorder very well and may go on with the disorder for years without anyone noticing. However, the more a person educates themself about these disorders, the more likely they are to notice them if they come across someone struggling. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Excusing oneself to go to the bathroom after eating (in the case of intentional purging)
  • Frequent negative comments about one’s weight or physical appearance
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Food going missing
  • Discovering lots of empty food wrappers
  • Cold, clammy hands
  • Constantly talking about calories
  • Exercising obsessively
  • Weighing oneself too often
  • Not wanting to eat around anyone else

It’s important to also note that anyone can be affected by an eating disorder, regardless of age, gender, background, or nationality.

How to Help Someone Struggling With an Eating Disorder

It can be hard to confront someone who you believe is struggling with an eating disorder, but it is necessary. Sit down with them in private and express your concerns about their health. Make sure they know you are coming from a place of love and worry, not of judgment. Encourage them to seek proper treatment and assure them that you will be there to support them along the way. They may at first deny they have a problem, but continue to try to persuade them to get assistance.

With National Eating Disorders Awareness Week starting February 20, 2023, it is an important time to spread awareness about what eating disorders are and how to identify the signs that someone is struggling. Three main eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Anybody can experience an eating disorder regardless of age, gender, background, or nationality. Some people can hide the signs of their eating disorders very well, but it’s crucial to be aware of the signs. The most common signs of an eating disorder include skipping meals, excessive exercise, intense calorie counting, and frequently weighing oneself. Some people also struggle with substance misuse. For help with a substance use disorder, call The Kimberly Center at (855) 452-3683

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