Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 kicked off on Sunday. The annual campaign is designed to help understand as well as clear up misconceptions surrounding many eating disorders.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 30 million Americans currently suffer from an eating disorder. Included in that number are people from all walks of life, and one-third are men.
The association’s interim CEO, Claire Mysko, says there are many myths about eating disorders that she hopes will be busted by increasing awareness.
“Unfortunately, eating disorders are still largely defined as girl’s and women’s issues, but they affect men and women, girls and boys. They also affect people of all ages, of all ethnicities, of all sizes. They are often dismissed or misunderstood as vanity issues, or choices, and in fact these are very, very serious illnesses.”
Mysko stressed the importance of recognizing an eating disorder and getting help as soon as possible, before it takes hold.
“This year, the focus of the campaign is on early intervention. Our theme is ‘Three minutes can save a life. Get screened, get help, get healthy.’ We are directing people to an online screening tool.”
The eating disorder screening tool does not diagnose an eating disorder, but pinpoints behaviors that could lead to one. According to Mysko, the tool asks several questions that determine attitudes and activities in relation to food, weight, body image, and exercise. It also suggests whether visiting a health professional is a good idea based on the responses.
In addition to the screening questionnaire, the association’s website is filled with information about available treatments. Mysko says trained volunteers are available either by telephone or through a click-to-chat function, so visitors who are concerned about themselves or a loved one can quickly talk with someone.
Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where a person significantly restricts food consumption, often leads to severe weight loss and malnutrition. A recent study found roughly four percent of people suffering from the disorder die.
Another eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, is categorized by binging on food and then purging. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, nearly 3.9 percent of sufferers die.
There is a third disorder officially recognized in the recently updated edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-V), dubbed binge eating disorder. It is identified by repeated bouts of food binging, and affects more people than the other two.
Mysko says an eating disorder can develop any time in life and many might not fit easily into one category.
“Then there are a lot of people that fit into the sub-threshold category, where they might not fit the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, but their thoughts and behaviors around food and weight are really causing a lot of problems in their lives. That is really part of the goal of this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week; it’s to get people to reach out for help at that early point.”
In a related Inquisitr report, health care practitioners are becoming aware of another eating disorder. Named selective eating disorder, a sufferer generally experiences anxiety and illness when exposed to food not normally in their diets.
An eating disorder typically starts by someone trying to be healthy, particularly in a society that glorifies physical fitness or photogenic perfection. A disorder can also be triggered by major life changes, such as divorce or children leaving home. When someone starts to feel the pressure of aging or feeling less important in a culture, an eating disorder can be an escape.
The National Eating Disorders Association is asking people use the three-minute screening tool during the Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 campaign. Mysko hopes the website will help someone determine if they are unknowingly engaging in activities that could ultimately lead to anorexia, bulimia, or other unhealthy behavior and offer encouragement to seek help.
[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]