We have all known someone who is struggling with or has suffered from an eating disorder.
Some are dealing primarily with anorexia, restricting their intake of food and fluids to the point that basic body functions are threatened, even life itself. Others find themselves driven to bulimia, bingeing on foods to excess only to purge them from their bodies by vomiting, taking laxatives, over-exercising or a combination of these. This puts their bodies at risk for dangerous fluid and electrolyte imbalances that can trigger conditions including heart attack, liver damage, kidney failure and death. Other people overeat without purging and gain unhealthy amounts of weight, increasing their risk for hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, liver disease and diabetes.
The National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week is an effort by healthcare providers and others committed to raising awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment. This year’s theme is “Everybody Knows Somebody” because awareness of eating disorders is crucial to recognizing the illness so that it can be treated as early as possible and treated properly.
Eating disorders contribute to altered mental states, which puts patients at increased risk for suicidality, depression, psychotic episodes, OCD and other kinds of self-harm such as cutting or burning themselves and substance abuse. The social stigma about body image compounds the stigma around mental illness.
There are so many misconceptions about eating disorders. Some people attribute these eating-disordered behaviors to vanity or social acceptance. Others think it is a personality problem in which the patient is trying to exhibit “control” over their lives or others through their illness. The real etiology usually lies in deeply felt damage from trauma at an early developmental stage, undermining the most basic of Maslow’s needs for sustenance and survival.
The good news is that increased awareness can help get those suffering from eating disorders into appropriate treatment, which to be successful requires a team approach of psychiatric, medical and nutritional care. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses, and it is important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape them.