Friday, February 25, 2011

An Intro to Eating Disorders {Including Myths}

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so I would be remiss in not mention this in my blog. So, I'm planning on doing a few posts on various aspects of Eating Disorders....
Eating Disorders, like many illnesses, are often misunderstood. It is through education that we develop understanding, support, empathy, and ways to best help those around us.
Some basic information:

In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death  
battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge  
eating disorder (Crowther et al., 1992; Fairburn et al., 1993; Gordon, 1990; Hoek, 1995; Shisslak et al.,  

Unfortunately, these numbers are on the rise, and touch millions of people every year (either people with the disorder or close family and friends). Clearly, this is a HUGE and growing issue. 

I often see a lot of Myths and Misconceptions about Eating Disorders. This can create stress, misunderstanding, arguments, and more pain for the person with the eating disorder. Understanding is KEY!

Types of Eating Disorders
1. Anorexia Nervosa: This is the restriction of food (self-starvation) in order to lose weight. This can be incredibly serious and life threatening
2. Bulimia Nervosa: Characterized by a cycle of bingeing and a compensatory purging time. This can be life threatening as well.  
3. Binge Eating Disorder: This is similar to bulimia in that there are frequent times of bingeing, but unlike bulimia, there isn't purging. Binge eating involves eating many more calories then is normal or healthy. 

Myths and Misconceptions (see this link for a whole listing of myths)
1. Eating Disorders are a Female Problem only: Clearly, looking at the statistics above, one can see that this isn't a female problem alone. The number of males struggling with eating disorders is on the rise. 
2. Eating Disorders are Uncommon: Again, looking at the statistics, you can see how prevalent EDs really are. 
3. Eating Disorders are about Appearance and Beauty: "Eating disorders are usually related to emotional issues such as control and low self-esteem and often exist as part of a “dual” diagnosis of major depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder."
4. Purging only Means Throwing Up: Although throwing up is one means of purging, it is not the only way to compensate for the intake of calories. Other means include laxatives, food restriction, enemas, and excessive exercise. After a person has a high food intake, they may purge through any of these means to try to decrease the high number of calories consumed. So, be aware that throwing up is only one thing to look for!
5. Eating Disorders Are An Attempt To Get Attention: There are a number of factors that can cause eating disorders, and is not as simple as "they just want attention."The behaviors that you see are a struggle of deeper mental and psychological problems. 

This just skims the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to information about Eating Disorders. What's important is that we each become educated on these disorders, understand the myths and misconceptions, and understand what each of us can do to help. 

Here are a few helpful links:
National Eating Disorders Association
National Institute of Mental Health-Eating Disorders
Mayo Clinic- Eating Disorders
Voice In Recovery-Blog

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