National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: It’s Time to Talk About It!

It’s the hushed whispers in the floor bathroom after a girl walks out. It’s skipping meals and doubling up on gym time. It’s body-bashing other people’s and your own body with your friends. It’s losing friends and alienating people. It’s taking a risk with your health. It’s keeping quiet. It’s keeping you from living your life in college and beyond to the fullest. It’s time to talk about it!

But about what exactly? Eating disorders. Yep, it’s time to talk about them, girls. That’s the slogan for the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA’s) National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW), February 21-27th 2010.

The goal of NEDAW is “to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment,” says the NEDAW website. “Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses — not choices — and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder.”

And that’s what we’ll be doing on CollegeCandy all week long. We’ll be covering the basics: what eating disorders look like, how to help a friend in need, disordered eating and losing weight the healthy way. We want to bring this difficult and serious issue to the forefront and help our friends in need.

So what do eating disorders look like? Well, just like people, they come in all shapes and sizes. Signs of eating disorders are far more varied than most people think. Sure, looking emaciated might be a tip-off that something is wrong, but there are so many more things to be aware of.

Each eating disorder, (there are four main types – Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Eating Disorders not otherwise specified), has it’s own set of signs and symptoms. Of course, many of these overlap.

If you find you or a friend exhibiting any of the behaviors below, please seek help from someone you trust. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and “a study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover.” Scary stuff.

So what should you look for?

Anorexia Nervosa: Self-starvation and refusal to eat or maintain a weight at a healthy or normal level for one’s age, size, height and activity level. Intense fear of being fat in spite of excessive weight loss.

Symptoms:

Dramatic weight loss; preoccupation with dieting, weight, food, calories, and fat grams that interferes with one’s life; refusal to eat certain foods; denies feeling hungry; complaints of constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, lethargy,and excess energy; avoids mealtimes or social functions involving food; resistance to maintaining normal body weight, comments about feeling “fat”; excessive and intense exercise regimen; loss of menstrual period; growth of thin body hair.

Bulimia Nervosa: Cycles of binge eating and purging (compensating for eating large amounts of food in a short period of time by vomiting, laxative abuse or over-exercising).

Symptoms:

Evidence of binge eating; evidence of purging; feels uncomfortable eating around others; develops food rituals; hides or hoardes food; drinks excessive amounts of water; uses mouthwash, mints or gum excessively; unusual swelling of cheeks or jaw; calluses on back of fingers or hands from inducing vomiting; extreme exercise habits; extreme concern with body weight or shape; looks bloated from fluid retention; discolored teeth. May be at a normal weight or overweight.

Binge Eating Disorder: Characterized by recurrent binge eating without regular use of compensatory measures to counter binge eating while feeling out of control, ashamed or disgusted over behavior.

Symptoms:

Excessive binge eating; food rituals; steals or hoards food; makes lifestyle changes to allow for binges; skips meals or takes small portions at mealtimes; periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full; engages in sporadic fasting or repetitive dieting. Body weight may be average, low, above average or obese.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS): Includes some combination of the signs and symptoms of the above disorders, but not all of the criteria necessary to meet a specific diagnosis. Like all eating disorders, EDNOS are physically dangerous and emotionality destructive.

Symptoms: Any other above signs and symptoms.

[Tomorrow we’ll share the best ways to approach a friend you think might be suffering from one of the above disorders. Come back and find out, from someone who’s been through it before, the right and wrong way to help a friend.]

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