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It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (through Saturday, March 1, 2014), sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to reduce the stigma about eating disorders and improve access to treatment resources (http://nedawareness.org/about). The week is a collaborative effort of volunteers, eating disorder professionals, health care providers, students, educators, social workers and organizations and individuals wanting to raise awareness for the cause and learning the fact and myths about bulimia, anorexia nervosa and other disorders. This year’s theme is “I Had No Idea,” because most don’t know when a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder.

“The impact of increased outreach efforts leads to a greater chance of people seeking out resources and help for an eating disorder, which ultimately saves lives,” NEDA’s website says.

GETTING THE WORD OUT: Schools nationwide are raising awareness about eating disorders this week. Photo: Neda.org
GETTING THE WORD OUT: Schools nationwide are raising awareness about eating disorders this week. Photo: Neda.org

Events are scheduled across the nation, from pamphlet and poster distribution to volunteer speakers, social media activity on Facebook and Instagram, interactive and educational events like community meetings, panel discussions, movie screenings, art exhibits, etc.

NEDA says “eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses – not choices – and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder.” So what can you do this week?

Three Ways to Take Action

Following are three things everyone can do for Eating Disorders Week to help raise awareness, according to ActiveMinds.org (http://www.activeminds.org/our-programming/awareness-campaigns/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week).

Watch Your Language:

It’s common to hear and say such things as “You look so good. Have you lost weight?” This sounds positive and innocuous, but mental health experts say constantly equating losing weight to looking better reinforces the mindset that fuels eating disorders. Active Minds says, “People are much more than their appearance, and we should reflect that complexity in the way we compliment them.

Know the Signs:

Know someone who has lost or gained a lot of weight in a short period of time? Do they seem depressed or anxious? Does the person often disappear after meals or avoid eating socially? Does he or she spend a lot of time working out at the gym? Answering yes to any of these questions might mean the person has an eating disorder. Worried? Say something. “Your concerns may not be met warmly, but they may need and want your help,” Active Minds says.

Reach Out

If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to them. “Let them know that struggling is normal and encourage them to seek help on their campus, in the community, or by calling 1-800-273-TALK. A show of support and understanding can go a long way for someone struggling in silence,” Active Minds says.

Why Eating Disorders Are So Serious

NEDA estimates that more than 20 million American women will suffer from an eating disorder sometime in their lives. Although eating disorders are often thought of as “women’s problems,” 10 million American men suffer from eating disorders each year, and men are less likely to seek help.

STUDENTS RAISE AWARENESS: This young woman created a T-shirt to raise awareness about body image. Photo: Neda.org
STUDENTS RAISE AWARENESS: This young woman created a T-shirt to raise awareness about body image. Photo: Neda.org

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