National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week Feb 24 - March 2

February is known for Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month, but there is another event that takes place at the end of February that deserves some attention. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week for 2013 takes place February 24th to March 2nd . This year’s theme, “Everybody Knows Somebody” demonstrates that eating disorders are more prevalent than before. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), up to 24 million Americans suffer from disordered eating and one in ten people with an eating disorder will die as a result of the illness. It’s time for that statistic to change and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has been working hard to help.

Many people use the phrase disordered eating liberally, but it’s important to know about the different types of eating disorders, some of the signs and symptoms, and what you can do to help someone who you think is suffering.

There are four main classifications of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)

Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Anorexia symptoms include:

  • Resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height.
  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat,” even though underweight.
  • Loss of menstrual periods in girls and women post-puberty.

Be aware of some of the warning signs of anorexia, including:

  • Dramatic weight loss.
  • Consistent excuses to avoid meals or situations involving food.
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities.
  • Development of food rituals.
  • Physical signs like fainting, fatigue, dry hair and skin, growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo on face and arms.

Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors including self-induced vomiting and excessive exercise. Bulimia symptoms include:

  • Regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by sense of loss of control over eating.
  • Regular use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, obsessive exercise, and self-induced vomiting.
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape.

Some of the warning signs of bulimia include: 

  • Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs of vomiting, packages of laxatives.
  • Excessive exercise regimen even despite fatigue, illness, or injury. 
  • Physical signs include discoloration of teeth and tooth decay, swelling of cheeks or jaw area, irregular bowel movements and constipation.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by recurrent bingeing without compensatory behaviors. Symptoms include:

  • Regular intake of large amounts of food in short periods of time.
  • Feeling depressed and guilty by the behavior.

Some of the warning signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating when not hungry.
  • Eating alone.
  • Eating until uncomfortably full.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) can include any combination of signs and symptoms typical of anorexia and bulimia, but they do not meet the criteria for the diagnosis of these diseases. For example, menstruation may still be occurring, weight is still within normal range or above, and purging without bingeing.

If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder, it is most important to intervene as early as possible for the best chance of recovery. Eating disorder treatment includes a team approach involving a psychologist, registered dietitian, psychiatrist, and primary care physician. If physical problems have occurred, it may be necessary for an eating disordered patient to be admitted to an inpatient treatment facility.

When family members and friends of people suffering from eating disorders ask me what they can do, I tell them to support their loved one. That includes being available to talk to them, avoid placing shame and guilt, and avoid giving simple solutions. It’s also important to check in with yourself to ensure you are not modeling disordered eating attitudes and behavior. Remember, unless you have an allergy or medical diagnosis that requires elimination of some kind, all foods can be enjoyed in moderation.

To find out more about eating disorders and what you can do to help, take a look at the National Eating Disorders Association’s website.

Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian, member of the CRA RD Panel, and founder of Nutritioulicious™, a private practice in Manhattan. She has extensive experience as a nutrition writer, editor, and speaker, and has been featured as a nutrition expert on NBC, Fox 5, and NY1, and in national magazines, including Glamour, Fitness, and Woman’s Day. Jessica is a member of the American Dietetic Association and Greater NY Dietetic Association, and she consults for several food and beverage companies.

Members of the RD Panel are paid consultants to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), but their statements and opinions are their own. RD Panel members provide general dietary information, but you should consult your own physician or dietitian for advice concerning your particular circumstance.