The Emily Program recognizes National Eating Disorders Awareness Week each February with education surrounding the illness that affects our clients and their families. Similar to other kinds of awareness campaigns, this national campaign aims to increase public understanding and support for the cause. Eating disorder awareness is especially important, because although they are common mental health conditions, they are often misunderstood.
Nearly 30 million Americans experience an eating disorder in their lifetime. Unfortunately, many of these individuals will not receive treatment due to stigma, misinformation, and treatment access barriers. Making eating disorders visible as a serious illness is essential to improving the detection and intervention of the disorder. In this blog, we discuss the types, causes, signs, and consequences of eating disorders, as well as an overview of the multidisciplinary team that treats them.
Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions characterized by disturbances in eating behaviors and thoughts about food and weight. Eating disorders are not simply a diet or a lifestyle choice, they are serious illnesses that impair psychosocial functioning and physical health. With the second-highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, eating disorders can be deadly if left untreated. It is estimated that one American dies every 52 minutes as a direct result of an eating disorder.
Eating disorders fall under five primary diagnoses, respectively characterized by the following criteria:
Eating disorders do not discriminate; they affect people of all races, ages, socioeconomic statuses, sexualities, genders, cultural backgrounds, and abilities. The stereotype as a “thin white woman’s disease” has prevented so many people from seeking help, and it’s simply not true. Some parts of the population are disproportionately affected and undertreated, including:
Despite the misconception that eating disorders are a choice, they are actually biological, brain-based illnesses impacted by complex psychological and social factors. The biopsychosocial factors are different depending on the person, but commonly include elements such as:
One of these components alone cannot cause an eating disorder. Rather, a combination of them will increase the likelihood of one developing. Multiple biopsychosocial factors must coincide for an eating disorder to develop.
Once an eating disorder develops, it is kept going by changes in one’s individual biology and psychology. The illness actually changes one’s brain shape and function as it takes hold, and the damage is then exacerbated by a lack of nutrition.
You cannot detect an eating disorder in someone just by looking at them; the signs can be much more subtle and difficult to spot. Even those who seem “healthy” can be suffering immensely with the disorder. Dieting is so normalized in our thin-obsessed culture that it can be hard to differentiate disordered eating from a potential eating disorder. Restrictive eating or excessive exercise behaviors often go unseen or, on the opposite end, are even celebrated.
There are some key signs to look out for, however. Prominent indications of an eating disorder include:
Eating disorders require a multidisciplinary treatment team that can address the medical, psychological, and nutritional components of the illness. Each member of the care team plays an important role in developing and delivering a comprehensive treatment plan.
Though eating disorders are complex, serious, and potentially life-threatening illnesses, recovery is possible with proper care and support. Find more information about The Emily Program’s full continuum of care for children, adolescents, and adults online or by calling 1-888-364-5977.
Learn more about eating disorders and the role of multidisciplinary support in treating them at our upcoming webinar series, taking place during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Find additional information and register at the links below:
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