Written By: Katherine Balbin
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 28.8 million Americans experience an eating disorder at one point in their lives. This year, 2023, marks the 39th National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Starting in 1984, the week extends from February 27 to March 5. The week has been dedicated to the awareness of all types of eating disorders and the path to recovery.
Eating disorders are a serious mental illness that can affect the physical well being of anyone struggling. They can be categorized as unhealthy eating habits that can include obsessions with weight, body image, and food. There is a lot of stigma associated with eating disorders, such as there is only “one type” of disorder. “Anorexia” or “anorexia nervosa” is the most well known of the disorders. It’s the obsession with losing weight and restricting what is consumed.
There are assumptions that one has to be thin to be dealing with a restrictive disorder but that is false. Any person with any type of body can struggle with disordered eating. “Bulimia” is also a part of the restrictive category. It is the overeating or “binging” of food and later “purging,” which means either vomiting or dieting to avoid weight gain.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is a disorder called “orthorexia,” the obsession with exercising and a “healthy lifestyle.”
Even though eating disorders more commonly affect women, orthorexia more commonly affects men. The standard for men, unlike girls, is to have a muscular physique. To attain that body, exercising, sometimes dieting, eating too much or eating very little can become obsessive. However, it is also to note there is stigma attached to men and mental illness. Men are often not taken seriously or believed when it pertains to their own potential eating disorders. It can be very harmful when men are trying to seek help and are not given it. Trying to eat obsessively healthy and exercising can also disguise itself as a disorder.
One of the lesser known disorders is “pica.” According to the Health Line, it is a disorder where an individual eats things that are not food. Examples include dirt, chalk, soap, cornstarch, etc. This can be harmful and can cause internal injuries. It usually shows in children with autism, but it can be treated. The treatments can include behavioral therapy and medication. It is important to not shame anyone struggling; it can be detrimental to the recovery of those individuals.
Overall, NEDA week is spreading awareness on all different types of eating disorders. To destigmatize and help people on their journey towards recovery. There are many resources to find help. Talk-therapy and behavioral therapy may be an option. In-patient hospitals are there for those severely struggling but, just talking to a friend or someone close can make a difference. Shaming and not taking disorders seriously will not help. The week is to reassure those struggling that change is happening and recovery is possible.