Eating Disorder Awareness and What You Can Do To Help

Content warning: eating disorders

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National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, or NEDAwareness week for short, is an annual campaign by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) that takes place from February 21 to February 27. The most common eating disorders are binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa, with ARFID and orthorexia Nervosa in tow, although the latter is not formally recognized in the DSM. Binge eaters consume a large amount of food in one sitting, followed by a sensation of guilt. While they do not engage in any behavior to compensate for the binge, bulimics do, through self-induced vomiting, overexercise, fasting, or other methods. Anorexics, meanwhile, severely restrict their caloric intake. ARFID and orthorexia are lesser-known. The latter is similar to anorexia in that the sufferer limits the amount and types of food they consume, but in ARFID, this is caused by a general disinterest in food or avoidance of food based on sensory characteristics. Orthorexia is, paradoxically, an unhealthy obsession with eating “healthily”, manifested in cutting out several food groups and limiting food choices to a narrow scope of “pure” foods.

While it is true that no person can singlehandedly solve an issue that stems from complex biological, psychological, and sociological causes, there are some steps you can take to promote a healthy relationship with one’s body.

1. Limit your comments on other people’s bodies. Unless you know the person well, avoid commenting on their body. Even seemingly complimentary comments like “You look so much better after losing weight!” or “I wish I were as skinny as you are” could be harmful, as you are not certain whether the result of their slimmer figure is due to a physical illness, a drug addiction, poverty, depression, or an eating disorder.

2. Change your perception of what people with an eating disorder look like. No, the typical eating disorder sufferer is not a White, straight, cisgender middle to upper-class girl in her mid to late teens and who is underweight. Males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa. Black and Hispanic teenagers are significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia than White teenagers. Bulimics are usually average weight or slightly overweight. These stereotypes prevent mentally ill individuals from seeking help, as they fear that they will not be taken seriously due to failing to meet the image of a “typical” sufferer, or that they don’t look “sick enough” (that is, severely underweight). Education is the best way to combat stereotypes.

3. Promote healthy eating. Encourage the people around you, especially children, to eat when they’re hungry and to stop when they’re full. Don’t push children to necessarily finish their plate, as they need to learn to listen to their bodies’ signals, and avoid tying “rules” to food (something that is very prevalent among eating disorders). When feasting, challenge comments that express guilt for indulging, or promises to start a diet regimen the day after. It is perfect to indulge once in a while, and fulfilling a basic bodily function is not something to feel guilty over.

If you would like to read more, please check out our sources:

“Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood” | National Library of Medicine

“People of Color and Eating Disorders” | National Eating Disorders

“Four Common Misconceptions about Bulimia Nervosa” | Center for Discovery

“Keep Kids Out of the Clean Plate Club” | Eatright

“Forcing Children to Clear Their Plates Could Lead to Eating Disorders | Ron Huxley