Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Everything You Need to Know

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The number of eating disorders diagnosed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic increased by 15% from previous years. Early treatment for eating disorders is essential in minimizing lasting effects on a person’s health.

But, how can you tell if someone has an eating disorder?

In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, this article answers questions like this to spread awareness. The more people learn about eating disorders screening, the more people can get help quickly.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

February 21st, 2022 marks the first day of Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This annual campaign helps spread awareness and education about eating disorders and those affected by them.

Becoming more aware of eating disorders helps destigmatize the condition. Spreading education helps people suffering get the help they need sooner because others can recognize warning signs earlier.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Preparing for Eating Disorders Awareness Week starts with understanding, ‘what are eating disorders?’ An overly simplified definition is that eating disorders are a type of mental illness associated with the consumption of food.

However, it’s difficult to assign one definition to eating disorders since they take on different characteristics for different people. This makes recognizing them difficult for both the person with the eating disorder and their friends and family.

Who Is At Risk?

While anyone can develop an eating disorder at any stage in their life, certain groups of people are at higher risk than others. The below list includes some of these at-risk groups.

  • Adolescents/Young
  • Adults (12-25 years of age)
  • Athletes
  • Women
    Those with a family history of eating disorders

While women and adolescents/young adults are among the most at-risk groups for developing eating disorders, approximately 10 million men in the United States have been diagnosed. They are also more likely to go undiagnosed.

Types of Eating Disorders

While there are many different behaviors associated with eating disorders that are recognized by medical professionals, there are a few that are more common than others.

Understanding some of the differences between the various types can be helpful before undergoing our eating disorder test. Realizing that there are many different types of eating disorders can help someone realize they need help.

Anorexia Nervosa

When many people think of eating disorders, they think of anorexia nervosa. This is because it’s one of the most well-known types of eating disorders. It leads to extreme weight loss measures such as those listed below.

  • Severe calorie restrictions
  • Excessive exercise
  • Abuse of laxatives or diuretics

The obsessive behavior associated with this condition is linked to excessive fear of gaining weight and/or body dysmorphia. However, it can also occur as a result of other medical conditions.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

A lesser-known type of eating disorder is binge eating disorder (BED). Instead of the compulsive behaviors exhibited by those with anorexia nervosa, BED is associated with emotional distress.

The act of binge eating offers temporary relief from this distress. However, intense feelings of shame and regret soon follow. Intense overconsumption from BED often leads to serious medical conditions such as heart disease.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is another well-known type of eating disorder. Those with bulimia nervosa exhibit behaviors associated both with BED and anorexia.

A person may binge eat and purge shortly after. They may also participate in extreme weight loss methods such as severe calorie reduction and exercise. Those with this condition experience severe anxiety relating to their appearance.

How Eating Disorder Affect Your Health

Those with eating disorders are often unaware of the negative side effects associated with them or their severity. Below is a list of a few ways eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder can affect your health.

These conditions make early identification essential to minimize the impact on a person’s health. It’s also important to note that this is not a complete list of all of the potential side effects associated with eating disorders.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

For someone to get treatment for eating disorders, someone needs to first recognize the warning signs. This is often friends, family, or teachers but may also be the individual with the eating disorder.

Warning signs typically fall into two categories, which are behavioral changes and physical changes. While psychological changes also occur, they are more difficult to notice. Understanding physical and behavioral changes can indicate psychological changes.

Changes in Behaviors

One of the first considerations in eating disorder screenings is behavior. When a person experiences a psychological shift toward an eating disorder, they change the way they act around food.

While the below signs are common, everyone with an eating disorder has their own experience. Any sudden and inexplicable changes in behavior, even those not listed, should be taken seriously.

Obsession with Food

One major identifier of an eating disorder is an unhealthy obsession with food. This is evident in several behaviors including those listed below.

  • Hyperaware of food calorie content
  • Cutting food into tiny pieces
  • Taking a long time to chew
  • Hiding food
  • Eating alone or in secret

Alone, or in isolated incidents, each of these behaviors doesn’t necessarily seem worrisome.  However, a problem is evident if/when the behaviors become obsessive or compulsive.

Mood Fluctuations

An obsession with food combined with a lack of proper nutrients contributes to severe and sudden mood fluctuations. A person with an eating disorder often feels the need to exercise control of their food.

If a person with an eating disorder can’t control their food (such as an unexpected change in dinner plans), then they may become unreasonably frustrated or upset. They may appear overly sensitive about food.

Hyperfocus of Body

A person may need treatment for eating disorders if they are hyperfocused on their body. This can include frequently weighing oneself or taking regular body measurements.

Their behavior may be directly influenced by circumstances pertaining to their body. This might include how much they worked out or how much weight they lost.

Frequent Visits to Bathroom

Frequent visits to the bathroom are especially common behaviors among those with bulimia nervosa. A person may routinely excuse themself to go to the bathroom after a meal to purge.

They may follow up the visit to the bathroom with mouthwash, breath mints, or chewing gum. This is a method used to hide the smell of vomit on their breath.

Withdrawal from Social Activities

It’s common for people with eating disorders to withdraw from social activities. The reasons for this vary but it is commonly related to the relationship between food and social situations.

Whether dinner time, lunchtime, or movie snacks, a lot of social activities involve some kind of food. Instead of having to explain the reasoning for not eating, those with an eating disorder may choose to skip these events altogether.

Wearing Bulky Clothes

Some people with eating disorders start wearing bulky clothes. One reason is due to the difficulty of maintaining their body temperature. When they have little fat, they can’t keep warm and need additional layers.

Another reason is to hide their body. Even people who are severely underweight develop a mindset that they’re too heavy. Instead of wearing clothes that fit them, they hide under baggy clothes.

Physical Changes

Physical changes are the second way to tell if someone needs an eating disorders screening. Their altered mental state and behavior will change the way they look and how they feel.

The below list doesn’t include every possible physical change relating to eating disorders. This is because there are many complications and side effects relating to improper nutrition. However, these are some of the most common.

Dramatic Weight Fluctuations

Weight fluctuations are a normal occurrence for most people, especially when the fluctuations are small. Fluctuations associated with eating disorders tend to be extreme and sudden.

When a person stops eating or severely restricts their calories, they drop weight quickly but gain it back when binging. This becomes apparent in the way their clothes fit and can have severe consequences on their health.

Frequent Nausea

Many eating disorders are accompanied by frequent nausea. Those with binge eating tendencies may feel sick from overeating. With anorexia nervosa, an excess of stomach acid and lack of food can cause nausea.
The causes of nausea in those with anorexia nervosa are similar to those associated with bulimia nervosa. However, there’s also a psychological aspect. The compulsion to vomit after every meal can lead to habitual nausea.

Reduced Energy

Experiencing lethargy is common amongst those with eating disorders for several reasons. One reason is a lack of an adequate energy source. If a person isn’t eating enough food, they don’t have enough energy to fuel their body.

This lack of food also leads to difficulty sleeping. Changes in habits such as getting up early to exercise and overexercising can disrupt one’s circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep, even if they’re tired.

Changing Skin or Hair

A lack of proper nutrition can negatively affect the appearance of one’s hair and skin. Hair becomes dry and flaky while nails become brittle. A person may even experience hair loss as a result of eating disorders.

This change occurs because of a lack of protein stored in the body. When there’s a shortage of protein, the body has to choose where to send what remains. Since hair and nails are not essential for life, they suffer.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

An important part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week is helping those in need to seek treatment. Treatment can be intimidating for those with eating disorders because they don’t know what to expect.

The treatment for eating disorders depends on the type of eating disorder a person has. Seeking treatment sooner rather than later can help deter any lasting side effects or health problems associated with the condition.

Getting a Diagnosis

The first step in seeking treatment for eating disorders is getting a diagnosis from a medical professional. This often involves some type of eating disorders screening or counseling session.

Once a diagnosis is made, one’s medical team can develop a treatment plan. The treatment plan is developed by assessing a person’s physical and psychological condition and deciding which treatments are needed to maximize health.

Treating Physical Condition

Depending on the severity of a person’s condition, treatment for eating disorders often involves treating physical health as well as psychological health. It depends on the level of nutritional deficiency.

In moderate to severe cases, a person may need dental and general medical care due to a lack of proper nutrients. They’re likely to need nutritional education as well.

Treating Psychological Condition

Arguably the most important aspect in treatment for eating disorders involves treating a person’s psychological condition. While physical conditions can be temporarily improved, lasting change comes from a change in behavior.

A person with an eating disorder is likely to go through some type of therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, family-based therapy, or group therapy. They may also receive antidepressants or other medications.

Hospitalization for Eating Disorders

In severe cases of eating disorders, a person may require hospitalization to receive the care they need. This can be either due to a serious physical or psychological condition that needs around-the-clock care for stabilization.

Some individuals may be successful with day treatments instead of 24-hour treatment. They attend their program multiple days out of the week for counseling and education.

Prepare for Eating Disorders Awareness Week

With Eating Disorders Awareness Week comes an opportunity to spread awareness and education about those suffering from these conditions. Paying attention to the warning signs can help someone get the help they need sooner.

Those seeking treatment for themselves or someone they love should contact us today.


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