As February comes to an end, UofL Health recognizes National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and the need to spread messages of awareness, support and hope to people with eating disorders and their loved ones.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are a diverse set of serious yet treatable mental and physical illnesses that affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, sexual orientations and body shapes. The causes of eating disorders likely include a combination of ranging biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. Examples of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder
- Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
- Rumination disorder
- Unspecified feeding or eating disorder
- Laxative abuse
- Compulsive exercise
Due to a common misconception that eating disorders primarily affect young women, many assume that adults and men do not make up a significant portion of the population with these illnesses. However, researchers are finding larger numbers of middle-aged women reporting symptoms of eating disorders, and those with potential disorders are not being diagnosed. Symptoms of eating disorders look quite different in older men and women, often causing more severe medical complications leaving virtually every bodily system more vulnerable to damage.
Men are not spared from developing eating disorders with between 0.9% and 2.0% of females and 0.1% to 0.3% of males developing anorexia. Additionally, 15% of gay and bisexual men and 4.6% of heterosexual men had a full or subthreshold eating disorder at some point in their lives.
The National Eating Disorders Association also states that, in the United States, people of color are less likely to receive help for an eating disorder despite similar rates of illness among non-Hispanic White, Hispanic, African-American and Asian populations.
These statistics illustrate the need to recognize how eating disorders can arise in any individual and community. Supporting awareness across all populations is important in recognizing eating disorders quickly to provide the best chance of diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Warning signs and treatment
Early detection of an eating disorder increases the chances for recovery. Someone struggling with an eating disorder will likely have varying symptoms that may include:
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams and dieting
- Appears uncomfortable eating around others
- Food rituals
- Skipping meals or taking small portions of food
- Avoidance of friends and activities
- Extreme concern with body size and shape
- Extreme mood swings
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- Dizziness and fainting
- Muscle weakness
- Poor wound healing
- Impaired immune functioning
Receiving a diagnosis from a health care professional is the first step toward treatment and recovery. Treating an eating disorder typically requires a multifaceted medical approach commonly involving a provider, therapist, dietitian and insurance case manager. Meeting with a primary care provider is a great first step to explore treatment options and receive personalized care through provider referrals. To find a primary care provider, visit UofL Physicians – Primary Care today.