Eating Disorders

As folks (particularly women) strive to reach some illusionary notion of “perfection” – often through unnatural means – one organization is dedicating this week to usher in some sanity and positive sense of self behind one of the most persistent issues affecting Americans by the millions: Weight. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is launching its 27th annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from Feb. 23 – March 1. It’s their intention to educate and heal sufferers and their families regarding the complex disease.

Eating disorders can take on many forms, affecting women and men of all cultural backgrounds, especially in the US, where we’re force fed questionable and unattainable standards of physical beauty. The NEDA Awareness theme “I Had No Idea” aims to set the record straight about the pervasive, detrimental nature of eating disorders. The nationwide effort will unite communities to raise awareness about body image and bring national attention to the severity of eating disorders, which are bio-psycho-social illnesses with often devastating – sometimes life-threatening – consequences. While there is hope and recovery is possible – particularly with early intervention – many people suffer from the long-term effects of these illnesses.

NEDA is motivated by some pretty dire facts:

-The rate of development of new cases of eating disorders overall has been increasing since 1950.

-40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old.

The prevalence of eating disorders is similar among non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians…

-It is common for eating disorders to occur with one or more other psychiatric disorders, which can complicate treatment and make recovery more difficult.

-The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds. The average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds.

-Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women.

-For females between 15- and 24-years-old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Additionally, 4 out of 10 Americans either suffered or have known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder.

The week long initiative will offer a number of events, including, presentations and health fairs in schools and on college campuses; screenings of informational films; fashion shows featuring men and women of all body types; art shows; Scale-Smashing events (encouraging people to examine their “relationship” with the scale and begin a dialog); The Great Jeans Giveaway (encouraging people to get rid of jeans that don’t fit and to “be comfortable in your genes”); and NEDA Walks.

If no such events are going down in your immediate area, NEDA’s got you covered. Free Webinars are available to enlighten and inform. As a matter of fact the Eating Disorders in African American Communities course will be held this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 3 – 4:30 p.m. EST, by Gayle Brooks, MD, Gwen Vann and Benjamin O’Keefe. Visit http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/Webinars for more info, and to enroll.

10 Signs of an Eating Disorder

1. Drastic weight loss.

2. Preoccupation with counting calories.

3. The need to weigh yourself several times a day.

4. Excessive exercise.

5. Binge eating or purging.

6. Food rituals, like taking tiny bites, skipping food groups or re-arranging food on the plate.

7. Avoiding meals or only wanting to eat alone.

8. Taking laxatives or diuretics.

9. Smoking to curb appetite.

10. Persistent view of yourself as fat that worsens despite weight loss

If you’ve seen, or experienced any of the symptoms listed above, don’t hesitate to familiarize yourself with NEDA and their “I Had No Idea” initiative. The campaign may only be a week long, but it’s designed to generate positive change for a lifetime.

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