The last few days of February and the first few days of March mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW); this is an annual campaign meant to educate people about the realities of eating disorders and to provide hope, support, and visibility to individuals and families impacted by eating disorders. This year’s theme for the week is Strength through Experience and Knowledge - It’s Time for Change, focusing on education as an important tool for change.
Eating disorders are mental and physical illnesses that are serious but treatable. Anyone can be affected by an eating disorder; despite their age, gender, ethnicity, religion, weight, or other factors. Eating disorders are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors as well as their thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape can also signal an eating disorder. Some more common eating disorders that you may have heard of include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, but there are others as well.
In the United States, almost 29 million Americans will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime. Additionally, eating disorders have the second highest rate of mortality of mental health disorders, surpassed by opioid use disorders. With increasing conversations about mental health and more social acceptance to have these conversations, it’s important not to leave eating disorders out of these conversations, especially with the large number of people they impact and their fatality. While the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, it seems that a combination of biological, sociocultural, and psychological factors contribute to disordered eating.
Eating disorders harm people’s health in numerous ways, affecting almost every body system. Eating too few calories can lead to the breakdown of muscle, difficulty paying attention, fainting or dizziness, brittle hair that can fall out, and dry skin. Other effects of various eating disorders include digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation, cold hands and feet due to poor circulation, and problems sleeping. These are just a few of the many health consequences people who are living with and eating disorder may experience.
If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, there are resources available to get help. Anyone experiencing a mental health issue, including eating disorders, can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling “988”. Additionally, you can visit the Southwest Wisconsin Behavioral Health Partnership Network of Care website. On this site, you can find mental health resources located here in Green County. To learn more about eating disorders, consider visiting the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.