Eating Disorder Awareness: Can You Spy an Eating Disorder?

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By Salma Martinez, CCHHS WIC Specialist; Kelsie Hill, UNR Dietary Program student

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

If you were asked to enter a room full of people and identify the person with an eating disorder based on how they look, could you do it? Maybe you are looking for the woman eating a salad, or maybe even the man getting ready to go to the gym. Would it be the person eating a lot of food or maybe the person not eating anything at all? The truth is, eating disorders are serious, life threatening, and can impact all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Eating disorders can be found in all kinds of people no matter their shape or weight. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), almost 1 in every 10 people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder. Most of the time, people with eating disorders may not recognize they are sick or they may even deny they have a problem.

February 26th- March 4th is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The term, “Eating Disorder,” refers to extreme disruptions in eating behaviors that can cause medical and psychological problems. Eating disorders can come about from physical, psychological, and social issues in one’s life. There are different types of eating disorders that can be recognized through different signs.  A few of the most common types of eating disorders and their signs include:

Anorexia Nervosa (Anorexia): A person with anorexia will usually have a deep fear of gaining weight or “becoming fat”. This can lead to calorie restriction, causing a drastic loss of body weight. It is estimated that 40% of anorexia is diagnosed in youth aged 15-19 years old.

Bulimia Nervosa (Bulimia): Is defined as repeated events of binge-eating. This is when a really large amount of food is consumed. A person may try to make up for eating this large amount of food by vomiting, misusing laxatives, doing too much physical activity, or fasting. To be considered bulimia, this cycle of binge eating and trying to make up for the eating has to occur at least once per week for at least three months. Some warning signs of this disorder may include: being secretive, many trips to the bathroom after meals, and the use of food to fill emotional needs. The person with bulimia often has a normal weight, which makes this disorder harder to spot.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED): This disorder includes events of binge eating with large amounts of food when not physically hungry and eating until uncomfortably full. Typically, a person with binge eating disorder may eat more food than the average person would eat in a two hour period. A binge eating event may include eating more rapidly than normal without a sense of control or eating alone out of embarrassment. These events are not followed by actions such as vomiting or excessive exercise like with bulimia. With eating a lot of food, there is often signs of weight gain that can put people at risk for weight-related health problems. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, about 40% of those with binge eating disorder are male.

Eating disorders are generally glamorized for their promise of quick weight loss or pursuit of physical perfection. However, the health and psychological costs linked with these disorders are very serious and can cause death. It is important to think about the food you eat and to look for signs of eating disorder within yourself or those around you.

Because of the shame and confusion about eating disorders, many people remain undiagnosed and are not aware of their distorted body image or disturbed eating patterns. As a result, they often do not get the resources or support they need. If you, or a loved one, have any of the listed symptoms, please reach out to a health care provider for help. Visit nationalreatingdisorders.org for additional information or call the hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

Carson City Health and Human Services urges everyone to take an active role in their health. For additional resources and information about Department programs and services, check out our website at www.gethealthycarsoncity.org or “Like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cchhs, call us at (775) 887-2190, or visit us at 900 East Long Street in Carson City.