“It’s Time to Talk About It.” This is the theme for this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs from February 26 through March 4. Too, often, eating disorders are either a subject of shame or denial. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is dedicated to “opening up the conversation of eating disorders as a growing health priority that affects all kinds of people, regardless of age, gender identity ethnicity, sexuality, or background.” In addition to its public outreach, NEDA has an online screening tool in the form of a questionnaire on its web page.
An eating disorder is a psychological illness involves abnormal eating habits, either taking in not enough or too much food. This behavior can severely affect physical health and psychological (emotional) well-being. Usually a long-term problem, an eating disorder causes much suffering to the individual and family. Girls and young women are the most at risk for an eating disorder. Most eating disorders are co-morbid with mood and anxiety disorders, which sometimes also involve drug or alcohol abuse. At least 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder, with at least one person dying every 60 minutes. The two most common types of eating disorder are anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
The Greek word anorexia means “loss of appetite.” However, the condition involves much more than that. Out of a fear of gaining weight or being fat, the individual severely limits food intake.
The persons suffering from bulimia engages in repeating episodes of binge eating, consuming much more food than a healthy diet requires over short periods of time. There are two types of bulimia – purging and nonpurging. With the former, the person engages in a form of self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives. The latter, referred to as binge-eating disorder, leads to becoming overweight or obese.
Another eating disorder is pica. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, however, pica usually is not related to body image. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines pica as the “persistent eating of non-nutritive, nonfood substances for a period of at least one month,” especially when doing so is not appropriate to the developmental level of the individual.
Anorexia nervosa has the highest rate of death among psychological disorders. Of these deaths, 1 of 5 is by suicide.
As many as 19 percent of college-age women struggle with bulimia.
Transgender students, already highly vulnerable to depression and suicide, are at high risk; 16 percent of these people have reported having an eating disorder.