Eating disorders are life-altering and require professional treatment

young women struggling with eating disorders

An estimated 9% of Americans will develop an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This includes several serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is being observed Feb. 26 through March 3 this year to promote knowledge and encourage those affected to seek treatment.

Eating disorders are more than just one crash diet or sudden concern with physical appearance. They are persistent and severe eating disturbances that negatively affect social, psychological, and physical health. Thousands die each year from eating disorders. The good news is that with professional treatment, people can recover completely.

Many eating disorders share common symptoms, such as:

  • Weight changes (up or down)
  • Stomach or digestive issues
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • Changes to skin, teeth, hair, or nails
  • Social withdrawal
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Constant focus on weight, shape, and appearance

Some of the most common eating disorders are summarized below:

  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): Limiting food intake due to lack of interest, not liking the way it feels or smells, or fear of consequences such as choking or vomiting
  • Anorexia nervosa: Limiting food intake to lower body weight, intense fear of weight gain, and distorted body image and self-image
  • Bulimia nervosa: Frequent episodes of binge eating, along with behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as vomiting, use of laxatives, and excessive exercise
  • Binge-eating disorder: Eating unusually large amounts of food within a short amount of time, eating when full or not hungry, or eating in secret and feeling ashamed

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, size, or income. However, women are twice as likely to be affected as men. They most often appear during the teen years and young adulthood, when people face increased social pressures and are developing their identities. The exact causes are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors can raise a person’s risk.

Are you concerned that your eating habits may be negatively impacting your physical, mental, or social well-being? Not all unhealthy eating is an eating disorder, and you shouldn’t attempt to diagnose yourself or others. Talk with any health care provider, who can refer you to someone specially trained to diagnose and treat eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or registered dietitian.


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