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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Now more than ever, society seems to put a lot of pressure on individuals to maintain a particular physical image. There is so much pressure that some people resort to starving themselves to fit in. From February 24th through March 1st, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) would like to spread awareness about the psychological disorders that affect the millions of people suffering from these self-inflicting conditions. Many studies have linked eating disorders with feelings of depression and guilt.

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders affect up to 30 million people in the United States. They are mental conditions that cause sufferers to become overly preoccupied with food and how it impacts their self-image. Studies show that mortality rates are higher in those with eating disorders than any other mental illness. From a statistical standpoint, one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder every hour.

Types of Eating Disorders

Variations of eating disorders exist, far more than the common ones most people know, like bulimia and anorexia.

  • Anorexia nervosa. One of the more well-known eating disorders is anorexia nervosa. It is a severe medical condition characterized by a psychological trait that generates an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat continually. There are 200,000 cases of anorexia nervosa diagnosed each year in the United States. A person suffering from anorexia has an avid preoccupation with self-image, in that they may have a low opinion about how they look. The condition has an impact on overall health. Anorexic individuals lack the energy and nutrition provided by a healthy diet. Therefore, they develop poor sleeping habits, feelings of fatigue and physical weakness, and a compromised immune system.    
  • Bulimia nervosa. Another well-known eating disorder, called bulimia nervosa, is one that also affects 200,000 Americans annually. It is an emotional disorder that causes sufferers to obsess over their body image in an unhealthy way. Bulimic individuals tend to overeat intentionally and become depressed. The depression that comes from deliberate overeating causes the individual to induce vomiting, or purge, the food to keep from gaining weight. The acid from the vomit can do damage to the digestive system, from the esophagus to the mouth, gums, and can erode tooth enamel. The condition can eventually cause heart and gastrointestinal problems over time.
  • Binge eating disorder. While it may not be as familiar, binge eating disorder  (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It is a condition that renders a person incapable of controlling how much food they consume in a single sitting. The affected individual will eat large amounts of food, often quickly and in short periods, to the point of discomfort. Individuals with BED will even eat when they aren’t hungry and will often do so alone because they are uncomfortable when eating in a social setting.
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder. There are also other eating disorders that may not meet the criteria of the more common conditions, and doctors categorize them as other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFEDs). A person with an OSFED has extreme discomfort with their body and will exhibit disturbing eating habits. The condition is not an eating disorder that is mild or less severe than other classifiable eating disorders. It is a diagnosis that acknowledges a person’s clear and significant clinical distress and impairment with eating.
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Formerly referred to as selective eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a newer diagnosis of an eating disorder. It is similar to anorexia, in that a diagnosed individual places limits on the foods that they eat. The difference is that someone with ARFID does not have a psychological fear or concern about their body or of gaining weight. ARFID is a condition commonly associated with children and ‘picky eaters,’ but also raises health concerns. Those with ARFID will most likely lack the nutrition that they need to function healthily.
  • Diabulimia. Diabulimia is an eating disorder focusing mainly on those who have type one diabetes. Individuals with type one diabetes cannot naturally produce the insulin hormone needed for converting sugar (glucose) into energy and storing excess glucose. To counteract the effects of the disease, doctors prescribe insulin shots for them so that they have enough to maintain blood sugar levels. Low insulin levels cause a person to lose weight. Diabulimics are those with type one diabetes, yet deliberately skip insulin shots, or refuse to take them all together so they can lose weight.

Help for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are dangerous, and cases are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. Fortunately, there are programs available that can help treat the condition so people can learn to live a happy life.

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