Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Eating disorders - and perhaps more accurately disordered eating behaviours - are non-discriminatory and know no bounds, impacting vast and diverse populations around the world. As I can confirm from clinical work, disordered eating affects individuals of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes, abilities, belief systems, and ethnic backgrounds. Eating disorders (the sum behaviours meeting DSM-5 diagnostic criteria) have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (Smink, van Hoeken, & Hoek, 2012) where a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits creates risk for developing an eating disorder (Culbert, Racine, & Klump, 2015).
Toxic media messaging, over-abundance of calorie-dense nutrient-poor foods, and increasing social dislocation are some known culprits, but these speak only part of the story. Due to their complex nature, within the clinical community eating disorders are renowned for being difficult to treat. Furthermore, treatment services, particularly adult-oriented, are limited and often reserved for those "sick enough" - i.e., in a medically compromised state. I would wager that, in reality, most sufferers are stable/functioning, but housing an internal war. Disordered eating behaviours are solutions to psychological problems - a remedy of sorts - where the daily battles are never truly won.
In efforts to increase awareness of the complex nature and prevalence of disordered eating; to debunk social myths and toxic stereotypes; to highlight the importance of appropriate, attuned care; and to inform the public about available supports and resources, Canadians will commemorate Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) from February 1st to 7th.
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), describes the goal and objectives of EDAW as follows:
To reduce the prevalence of anorexia, bulimia, dieting and body image problems through a public education program emphasizing social factors causing their development.
To provide information on eating disorders, dieting, and weight preoccupation, emphasizing social factors and dispelling common myths. To launch a national media campaign designed to heighten awareness of EDAW and to make connections between eating disorders and body image problems experienced by most women. To advocate for widespread changes in social attitudes. To encourage individuals with eating disorders and their families to acknowledge the problem, to encourage and direct them to appropriate resources, and to provide them with information and support. To educate professionals on the importance of primary and secondary prevention, and to provide professional development for healthcare workers, counsellors, and therapists. To make governments aware of the need for additional funding for health promotion, primary prevention, and treatment programs. To celebrate the diversity of body sizes and shapes of all people.
I think it is safe to say we all know someone who has fallen on the disordered eating spectrum and suffered as a result. You, too, may have been negatively impacted by someone's disordered eating behaviours and struggled yourself - to find supports, to offer guidance, to maintain a sense of self amidst oftentimes frustrating dysfunction. Whether a participant or observer to disordered eating behaviour, you are not alone. Consider supporting EDAW 2020 by attending local educational events, sporting the colour purple, and spreading awareness throughout your network. For local #EDAW2020 events, please check your community and have a look at NEDIC's events page.
Lastly, I share below the Academy for Eating Disorders' (AED) recent publication Nine Truths About Weight and Eating Disorders aimed at furthering awareness of eating disorders in individuals along the full spectrum of body sizes. With this document, AED hopes to combat weight-stigma amongst medical professionals and laypeople.
Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164.
Smink, F. E., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current Psychiatry Reports,14(4), 406-414.