Eating disorders can affect people of any age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status, though many still do not know the warning signs of various eating disorders or their potential side effects. Roughly 28.8 million Americans experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives, and many never receive treatment for their disorder. Research even shows that eating disorders have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic!
Eating Disorders Awareness Week is a national campaign held by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness) that takes place every February to raise awareness about eating disorders and provide resources for those that wish to know more. This year, the week falls from February 21st through the 27th with the theme of See the Change, Be the Change. This week is a great opportunity to recognize and see the changes within the treatment of eating disorders, and be the change through advocacy and awareness.
Are you knowledgeable about the different eating disorders?
Why is talking about eating disorders important?:
- Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide, with 28.8 million Americans experiencing an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
- Less than 6% of individuals with eating disorders are underweight.
- People in larger bodies are half as likely as those at a “normal weight” or “underweight” to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
- Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, only second to opioid overdose.
- Every 52 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.
- 20-43% of those with anorexia nervosa, 15-23% of those with bulimia nervosa, and 21-23% of those with binge-eating disorder or other specified feeding and eating disorder report current suicidal ideation.
- Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders have abused alcohol or illicit drugs.
- Unresolved trauma and/or PTSD can be important perpetuating factors in eating disorder symptoms maintaining long-term.
- Males represent 25% of individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, and have a higher risk of dying, likely due to the misconception that males don’t struggle with EDs.
- 20-30% of adults with EDs also are diagnosed with autism.
- Black, indigenous, and people of colour are half as likely to be diagnosed or receive treatment for an eating disorder.
- Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behaviour, and Hispanic people are significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than non-Hispanic people.
- Asian American college students report higher rates of restriction than their white peers.
- Gay and bisexual men are significantly more likely to engage in eating disorder behaviours to control their weight.
- Transgender college students report more disordered eating than their cisgender classmates at approximately four times the rate.
Curious to see more? Check out these links to see other statistics: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders and https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/
What are some different types of eating disorders and their warning signs?
- People who suffer from binge eating disorder have frequent bouts of consuming unusually large amounts of food and feeling unable to stop eating despite feeling full, usually eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable. After a binge episode, they usually have high feelings of guilt and shame. This is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
- Signs of binge eating can include food hoarding, eating unusually large amounts of food over a short period of time, eating in secret, weight gain, eating until uncomfortably full, and feeling guilt, shame, disgust, or upset about eating patterns.
- Side effects include weight gain, high feelings of guilt and shame, low self-esteem and body image.
Bulimia Nervosa (BN):
- Those that struggle with bulimia have bouts of binging episodes that lead to “purging” the food after a binge. Purging can include, but is not limited to, using laxatives, inducing vomiting, fasting, or excessive exercise following the binge episode. Many people with bulimia feel a lack of control over their binging and purging behaviours.
- Signs of bulimia can include the same signs as binge-eating, as well as signs of purging. Signs of purging include excessive and/or intense exercise, being reliant on laxatives, signs of throwing up after meals or binge episodes such as spending some time in the bathroom immediately following a meal, or fasting for a period of time following a perceived binge.
- Side effects are different for everyone. Some common side effects from induced vomiting include a chronically inflamed or sore throat, swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw, worn tooth enamel and decaying teeth, and acid reflux. All methods of purging can have side effects such as severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN):
- People who suffer from anorexia have an extreme fear of weight gain and excessively diet or exercise in order to lose weight. Many of these individuals have a distorted body image, often perceiving themselves to be overweight, despite having a BMI in the underweight zone. There are two types of anorexia, the restricting type where the individual has not engaged in binging and/or purging, and the binge-eating/purging type.
- Signs of anorexia include noticeable weight loss, notable thinness, hiding weight loss with baggy clothing, obsessive calorie counting and dieting, refusing to eat certain foods or food not prepared by them, not eating around other people, compulsive exercising, and menstrual cycles stopping for biological females.
- Side effects can vary in severity and type depending on one’s own body, duration of the disorder, and severity of the disorder. Side effects can include thinning of bones, muscle weakness, thin or brittle hair and nails, severe constipation, low blood pressure, lowered heart rate, fainting or feeling dizzy, infertility, damage to the heart, brain damage, and even death.
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED, formerly known by Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS):
- OSFED is a catch-all of eating disordered patterns that do not fit the strict criteria for other named disorders.
- There are five different clinical examples of OSFED which include atypical anorexia nervosa where all criteria for anorexia nervosa are met besides having a BMI in the underweight zone, bulimia nervosa of low frequency or limited duration, binge eating disorder of low frequency or limited duration, purging disorder where an individual engages in purging behaviours without binge episodes, and night eating syndrome where the individual eats at least a quarter of their daily calories after dinner, usually waking up in the middle of the night to eat at least a few times per week.
- Signs of OSFED are harder to catch due to the limited nature of the behaviours, a combination of different problematic eating behaviours, and shame the results from the disordered eating patterns.
- OSFED is sometimes misinterpreted as being not as severe as other eating disorders, when in fact, studies have shown that individuals diagnosed with OSFED experience side effects and symptoms that are just as severe, if not more severe, than those that are diagnosed with AN, BN, or BED. Without treatment, many diagnosed with OSFED go on to meet the criteria for the other eating disorders.
- Among these, there are eating disorders named Pica where an individual eats non-food substances; Rumination Disorder where an individual regurgitates their food; and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder where an individual avoids foods due to a lack of interest, sensory characteristics of the food, or has some other aversion to food that isn’t related to another eating disorder.
Where to get help:
If you are experiencing any symptoms related to any eating disorder, know that recovery is possible!
Eating disorder treatment depends on your particular disorder and your specific symptoms. In most cases, treatment involves a trained therapist, nutrition education, usually through a registered dietitian or nutritionist, medical interventions from a knowledgeable doctor, and sometimes medications. This team/multidisciplinary approach can help you tackle all aspects of the disorder and push you along the road for recovery.
NEDA has a helpline that you can call, chat, or text in order to get support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder. The chat and phone number for text or call can be accessed here: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
Please note that they have limited hours for responding for all three methods.
If you are in crisis and need help immediately, you can text “NEDA” to 741741 and be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line provides 24/7 support via text message for free.
This post was written by Shay Quigley, T-LMLP.
Please reach out if you have any questions or would like to discuss available services at Florence Crittenton. We do have a registered dietitian and nutritional specialist, Rachel Werling, who is available for individual and group sessions.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC