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National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February)

During the month of February, the week of February. 23rd to March 1st, represents the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The theme this year is "I Had No Idea". This year the National Eating Disorders Association is stressing the need to address eating disorder misconceptions - as many individuals, families, and communities are not aware of the often devastating mental and physical consequences. Resources for treatment and support are available online and locally.

For many people, understanding the cause and existence of eating disorders is difficult. Taking that a step forward and discussing them is even harder. We live in a culture saturated with unrealistic body-image messages. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the average American woman is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds. In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are all types of eating disorders. Over-exercising and an obsession with healthy eating can also be seen as disordered behaviors. Eating healthy and being active is part of a healthy lifestyle, which is done for the purpose of improving health, not for an obsession of body appearance. When a person is unhappy with their body, it can affect how they think and feel about themselves as a person. A poor body image can lead to emotional distress, low self-esteem, unhealthy dieting habits, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

While not as common, boys are also at risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders. Body image becomes an important issue for teenage boys as they struggle with body changes and pay more attention to media images of the "ideal" muscular male.

No single known cause of eating disorders exists, but several things may contribute to the development of these disorders:

  • Culture. The U.S. has a social and cultural ideal of extreme thinness. Women partially define themselves by how physically attractive they are.
  • Personal characteristics. Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and poor self-image often accompany eating disorders.
  • Other emotional disorders. Other mental health problems, like depression or anxiety, occur along with eating disorders.
  • Stressful events or life changes. Things like starting a new school or job or being teased and traumatic events like rape can lead to the onset of eating disorders.
  • Biology. Studies are being done to look at genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain that may have an effect on the development of, and recovery from eating disorders.
  • Families. The attitude of parents about appearance and diet affects their kids' attitudes. Also, if your mother or sister has bulimia, you are more likely to have it.

If you or anyone you know suffers from an eating disorder, contact Behavioral Heath Services at Augusta Health: 213-2525. The National Helpline is (800) 931-2237. Information in this article was found at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, the National Eating Disorder Association and at the National Women's Health Information Center at www.womenshealth.gov.

This article is provided by Dana H. Breeding, RN Health Educator from Community Wellness, at Augusta Health. To contact her related to the above information, please call 332-4988 or 932-4988.