National Eating Disorder Awareness Week happens each year during the month of February and this year, it takes place from February 24th through March 1st.
This year’s theme builds on last year’s: “Come As You Are: Hindsight is 2020.” Those struggling with eating disorders are encouraged to reflect on “positive steps they’ve taken – including those stemming from setbacks or challenges – toward accepting themselves and others.”
Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening mental illnesses. While they are treatable, they often go undetected for a few reasons: misconceptions about what they are and who they affect, and the cultural normalization of food and weight preoccupation.
As a registered dietitian who works regularly with individuals struggling with eating disorders, I see first hand how devastating an eating disorder can be to someone’s health, relationships and quality of life. They often suffer in silence because an eating disorder can be difficult to understand if you aren’t familiar with how it may affect someone.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week provides the opportunity to educate the public on these important issues. To help with that, I asked some fellow registered dietitians what they wish more people knew about eating disorders. These were their responses:
“Eating disorders and disordered eating can occur in people of all shapes, sizes, genders and ethnicities. One can appear ‘just really health conscious and therefore thin’ or ‘really overweight’ and both be struggling equally from a mental health and physical health standpoint. Individuals should seek treatment from a dietitian, therapist and physician who all have training and experience with eating disorders. Recovery is a very unique process that warrants specialized care.”
—Jessica-Lauren Newby, registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist at With Milk and Honey, LLC
“Just because someone doesn’t meet ‘diagnostic criteria’ for an eating disorder doesn’t mean they shouldn’t seek help. The DSM-5 is flawed. Subclinical eating disorders are just as (if not more) dangerous than clinically diagnosable eating disorders, because often times, the individual minimizes their unhealthy behaviors and does not believe that he or she is sick enough to seek help, which just fuels the eating disorder. If there is any question in a person’s mind about whether or not their relationship with food might be negatively impacting their quality of life, they should seek help.”
—Emily Murray, registered dietitian at Nashville Child and Family Wellness Center
“I wish people understood that eating disorders are not something that happens by choice, but are the result of many complex factors, including biological and psychosocial underpinnings. For those who are struggling, don’t ever believe the lie that you are not ‘sick enough’ to get help. If you are struggling with food, that is enough criteria to ask for the help you need to get better. There is hope for a full and lasting recovery, no matter where you might be on your journey or what your past has been.”
—Crystal Karges, registered dietitian nutritionist and eating disorder specialist at Crystal Karges Nutrition
“Having an eating disorder is not a choice. It can be caused by past trauma, bullying, weight stigma, childhood environment and so many other factors. When a person struggles with an eating disorder or disordered eating, they are believing that their body isn’t enough and their body is the reason for the traumatic experiences they’ve been through. Eating disorder behaviors are a false sense of hope for someone who deep down just wants freedom and acceptance. So, don’t celebrate someone’s weight changes or restrictive eating patterns. Instead, ask meaningful questions and pay attention to negative changes you notice in their relationship with food. You may find that their weight/food behaviors are related to disordered eating patterns and you could be a voice of freedom to help them get (the) treatment they need.”
—Dylan Murphy, registered dietitian at Dylan Murphy Nutrition
“Reassuring someone that they are ‘not fat’ reinforces the eating disorder by endorsing disordered eating as a way to stay ‘not fat’ and that being fat is something to be relieved not to be.”
—Jaimie Winkler, registered dietitian at Forward With Food
“I’d love people to understand that body comments can be triggering or even the catalyst of an eating disorder. Unsolicited — albeit well-intentioned — comments on body shape or size, or compliments on weight loss are often the precursor to disordered eating or can fuel the fire, exacerbating their behaviors. That positive feedback can be very gratifying for a person with an (eating disorder) furthering their belief that their body is the most interesting thing about them and that being smaller is more valuable. I’d also like people to check their weight bias. People in larger bodies aren’t automatically lazy, unhappy, or binge eating. And that the root of binge eating is almost always a history of dieting, restriction and being stigmatized for their weight.”
—Sydney Bates, registered dietitian at Nourish Rx
“All eating disorders are significant. They don’t have a ‘look’ and can affect anyone. The degree to which someone is struggling often can’t be seen from the outside. To give those struggling the very best shot at full recovery, it is paramount that we abolish weigh stigma and bias so that all bodies are recognized as important and worthy.”
—Haley Goodrich, registered dietitian at INSPIRD Nutrition
If you suspect that you or someone you love may be struggling with an eating disorder, you can use this short screening tool from the National Eating Disorder Association to determine if it’s time to seek help.
- For help, contact the National Eating Disorders Association Toll-free national eating disorders helpline: 1-800-931-2237, available Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.- 9 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. EST.
- 24/7 crisis support via text: send the word NEDA to 741741.