Eating disorders are complex mental disorders that cause excessive fear and anxiety, leading to unhealthy behaviors in mental health. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA Week), observed during the week of February 21st, aims to educate the public and increase understanding about the realities of eating disorders.

Eating disorders usually begin as an obsession with body image, or food, which develops into a psychological condition that can be fatal in the most severe cases.

Although eating disorders are more common in women, researchers have estimated that roughly 10– 15 percent of the individuals treated for eating disorders are men.

Eating disorders can occur at any age, but most develop in the teens, with up to 13% of youth experiencing at least one eating disorder by the time they turn 20. 95% of the people with eating disorders are aged 12 – 25.

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The most common types of eating disorders

The three most common eating disorders are bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder.

People who live with anorexia tend to obsess about every calorie they take in and severely limit what they eat, while bulimia involves binging large amounts of food and then purging. Purging can be induced vomiting, use of enemas, laxatives, or diuretics to prevent weight gain.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is often confused with overeating and involves consuming large quantities of food in a very short amount of time. There are usually feelings of loss of control, shame, and guilt associated with the binges. BED differs from bulimia in that there are typically no episodes of purging after.

These conditions are rarely about the food itself. Instead, they’re a method of coping with emotional issues. People who may feel powerless over many aspects of their lives will start restricting their food intake, offering them some semblance of control.

The biggest myth about eating disorders

Eating disorders are often associated with young, straight, caucasian females. In reality, they affect people of all races, ages, and genders.

Eating disorders in men often go undiagnosed because of the stigma of males seeking mental health treatment. Male and female athletes often succumb to the intense pressure to keep in shape and win. This pressure can cause them to develop toxic eating habits, which often turn into eating disorders.

People in the LGBTQ+ community experience unique stressors and risk factors that can contribute to the development of eating disorders. The same is true for people with disabilities.

There is also no age limit for eating disorders to develop- they can occur at any stage of life.

There is no one single factor that causes eating disorders, but there are certain factors that may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, including:

  • Chronic stress

  • Family history of mental health issues

  • Preexisting diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Sudden and drastic life changes such as life transitions, death of a loved one, or divorce

Treatment options for eating disorders

There are a lot of treatments available for eating disorders, including inpatient and residential treatment. Outpatient options involve individual therapy and family therapy.

If you’re struggling with symptoms of an eating disorder, know that you’re not alone, and there is no shame in asking for help. At Serene Health, we offer a wide range of behavioral health and mental health services. We have appointments available via our Telehealth platform so that you can talk to a therapist online from the comfort of your own home. Call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit us at www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment.