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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Woman doctor staring at medical chart with woman patient.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW) highlights the seriousness of eating disorders across the United States, particularly for women and girls of all ages. Throughout the week, the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) will join organizations, health professionals, and communities across the country to increase awareness of eating disorders and their associated impacts, disparities, resources, and treatment options.

This year’s theme, “Let’s Talk About It: Eating Disorders, Stigma, and Empowered Recovery,” focuses on understanding the facts around eating disorders, addressing common eating disorder stigma, raising awareness about disparities in diagnosis and treatment, highlighting best practices for improving quality of care, and empowering people when seeking support and recovery.

ADM Rachel L. Levine, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Daily Topics for NEDAW 2024

During NEDAW, OWH will focus on a different daily topic to raise awareness about eating disorders, connect people with resources, and understand ways to seek treatment and support. Explore the daily topics below.

Share our #NEDAW2024 messages by accessing the NEDAW 2024 fact sheet and sharing content on your social media!

Monday: Understanding the Facts About Eating Disorders

  • Eating disorders are serious mental and physical health conditions that affect an estimated 28.8 million Americans, or 9% of the total population. 
  • Eating disorders involve serious changes to regular eating behavior and related thoughts. These changes can include strong concerns or obsessions with food, body, weight, and shape, eating much less than usual, uncontrollable overeating, or harmful repetitive behavior, which may include self-induced vomiting, misusing laxatives or other medicines, fasting, or excessive exercise. 
  • Eating disorders affect people of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, body shapes, ability levels, and socioeconomic statuses. 
  • Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

Types of Eating Disorders

Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Other lesser-known eating disorders and disordered eating conditions include avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), pica, rumination disorder, orthorexia, and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED).

People experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder that greatly impact their lives, but do not meet formal criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis are often categorized as having an unspecified feeding or eating disorder (UFED). People with UFED can and should still access support and treatment.

Eating Disorders and Women’s Health 

Eating disorders can harm the body in many ways. Untreated eating disorders can lead to cardiovascular disease, oral health problems, gastrointestinal issues, seizures, brain damage, sleep issues, and bone and muscle loss. Eating disorders can also negatively impact reproductive and maternal health outcomes, leading to miscarriage, low birthweight, complications during pregnancy, and postpartum depression. Eating disorders are associated with higher rates of in anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. It is important to remember that proper diagnosis and treatment can help support individuals to fully recover from eating disorders.

Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

There is no single cause of eating disorders. Risk factors for eating disorders can include biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. Some of the most common risk factors include:

Although some people are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, not everyone with risk factors will develop an eating disorder, and not everyone with an eating disorder has associated risk factors. Everyone’s experience is unique, and it is important to be honest with healthcare professionals about any associated risk factors so they can help tailor treatment plan to meet each patient’s needs.

Learn More 

Office on Women’s Health 
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) 
National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (NCEED) 
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) 
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) 
National Alliance for Eating Disorders (The Alliance) 
Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy, and Action 
The Emily Program 

Tuesday: Eating Disorders and the LGBTQIA+ Community

LGBTQIA+ individuals experience higher rates of eating disorders compared to their straight and cisgender peers. The LGBTQIA+ community experiences significantly higher rates of violence, trauma, bullying, and discrimination, all of which are strongly associated with the development of an eating disorder. Although there is a clear need for resources and support for this community, many LGBTQIA+ people have trouble getting proper care and treatment for eating disorder recovery. Many treatment programs are not inclusive of or educated on eating disorders considerations for the LGBTQIA+ community, and common eating disorder recovery messaging like, “Accept your body and don’t try to change it,” may not resonate with some transgender and nonbinary people. Eating disorder recovery resources and groups are also commonly geared towards straight cisgender women which can leave queer, transgender, and nonbinary people feeling like eating disorder supports are not meant for or supportive of them.

Many people, including some members of the LGBTQIA+ community, have trouble trusting healthcare professionals based on past discrimination they have experienced. Transgender and nonbinary people may face challenges with finding healthcare professionals who can provide supportive and affirming eating disorder care. Although gender dysphoria, which some transgender and nonbinary people experience, can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, this should not be automatically assumed when working with these populations. For some transgender and nonbinary people, their eating disorder is totally separate from their gender identity. Without proper education of healthcare professionals, the complex ways that gender dysphoria may or may not be related to people’s eating disorders can be misunderstood, leaving people without adequate and appropriate resources and help. Culturally competent training and education for healthcare professionals are essential to offering inclusive and high quality of care to LGBTQIA+ patients.

Explore the resources below to learn more about eating disorders within the LGBTQIA+ community:

Check out our blog series on eating disorders in the LGBTQIA+ community:

Wednesday: Bone and Muscle Health Effects of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can affect bone and muscle health because the body may not be getting the energy and nutrients it needs to stay healthy and strong. People experiencing eating disorders like anorexia nervosa greatly reduce the number of calories and nutrients they consume, which can prevent important growing and healing processes from taking place. Bone and muscle health considerations are especially important in populations like athletes and older adults.

Athletes experiencing eating disorders have a higher risk of bone fractures and muscle injuries. In girls and young women, lack of proper nutrition is especially harmful to bone health, as bones may not grow as dense or strong as they should. Eating disorders can also lead to a smaller and weaker heart as well as disruptions in reproductive health, such as delay or loss of menstruation. These changes affect healthy physical function and athletes' ability to perform their sport at high levels due to decreased strength, stamina, and speed.

Older adults, those ages 65 and up, have an increased risk of bone and muscle health issues but this risk can begin as early as age 50 depending on people’s existing health conditions and lifestyle factors. Many people in this age range are at an increased risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis, which is the thinning and weakening of bone tissue that can lead to fractures. Lack of proper nutrition from eating disorders further increases older adults’ risk of bone density loss. Older adults experiencing eating disorders are also more likely to develop sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle and strength that can happen when someone gets older and does less physical activity. Like bones, when muscles don’t get the nutrients they need, they can become smaller and weaker making sarcopenia much more likely to occur in someone who is experiencing an eating disorder. This may make daily activities like standing from a chair, walking, twisting the lid off a jar, or carrying groceries particularly difficult.

To learn more about the effects of nutrition on bone and muscle health in athletes and older adults, explore the resources below.

Check out our expert blog post “The Impact of Disordered Eating on Muscle and Bone Health

Thursday: Self-Advocacy & Empowerment: Eating Disorder Support and Treatment

Talking to loved ones or healthcare professionals about eating disorders, including asking for help, can feel scary or overwhelming. Many people often fear that their concerns may not be taken seriously or understood. This fear can be especially common among groups and individuals who have a history of experiencing bias or discrimination in the medical system, like women, people of color, individuals in larger bodies, pregnant and postpartum people, and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.

There are many tools and resources to help you prepare for these conversations and help make your voice heard. It is important to remember that your concerns are valid, and you deserve to get the support and treatment that works best for you. There are many ways you can be an active participant in your recovery process, and there are rights you have as a patient when receiving treatment. You can and should feel empowered to ask questions about things you don’t understand, express any discomfort about treatment options, and continue to engage in conversation about your treatment and recovery goals. It is normal to be hesitant to start treatment or be afraid of recovery, but these are essential steps to be the healthiest version of yourself. Share your fears and hesitations with your loved ones and healthcare professionals so they can provide you reassurance and support throughout your journey.

Explore the resources below to learn more about ways you can feel empowered in your eating disorder journey:

Reaching Out for Help

Patient Rights and Resources

To access information about treatment and recovery, explore Sunday’s resources below.

Check out our expert blog post “The Triumphs and Pitfalls of the Barbie Movie on Youth, Body Image, and Empowerment” 

Friday: Eating Disorders Among Underserved and Underrepresented Communities

Eating disorders don’t discriminate. They affect people of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and ability levels. People from underserved and underrepresented groups not only experience eating disorders at similar or higher rates than the general population but are often less likely to receive a proper diagnosis and associated treatment due to bias and discrimination.

Communities of Color

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have historically been left out of research and discussion around eating disorders. Barriers to proper treatment and diagnosis often stem from systemic issues like food insecurity, stress or trauma from racism and discrimination, and lack of access to health care. Providers also often lack cultural competence when providing care to communities of color which can affect diagnosis and treatment approaches. There is also often a lack of BIPOC representation within the healthcare workforce. Culturally competent training and education for healthcare professionals and a healthcare workforce that is representative of the populations served are important to ensure high quality of care is offered to communities of color. Learn more and find support at the resources below.

Children and Adolescents

Eating disorders are becoming increasingly common for individuals at younger and younger ages. Research estimates 77% of children and adolescents as young as 12 years old dislike their body, and by the age of 14, 60 to 70% of girls are trying to lose weight. Bullying from peers and pressure from social media are contributing factors to eating disorder development in young people. Eating disorder treatment for young people is different than treatment for adults because normal childhood growth and development, long-term health effects, and parent or caregiver involvement all need to be considered. A parent or caregiver’s role cannot be understated in helping young people identify and address eating disorder concerns. Treatment programs specifically for children and adolescents offer tailored treatment options as well as help for parents and caregivers supporting a child with an eating disorder. Learn more and find support at the resources below.

The Disability Community 

People with disabilities and co-occurring health conditions often experience an increased risk of developing eating disorders. People with physical disabilities may have concerns about their body image related to their disability, and people with chronic conditions that relate to their diet, such as gastrointestinal issues, may have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. People who are neurodivergent, like those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), often experience eating disorders at higher rates compared to their neurotypical peers. Like other underserved populations, the disability community experiences systemic barriers to accessing proper treatment and discrimination from healthcare professionals, which prevents proper diagnosis and treatment. Culturally competent training for healthcare professionals is needed to better support patients with disabilities who have or are at risk for eating disorders. Learn more and find support at the resources below.

Eating Disorders in People with Diabetes 

Eating disorders can be common among people with diabetes, which can cause harm to the body and make diabetes management difficult. Living with diabetes may increase the risk for an eating disorder by increasing the extreme attention and monitoring of food intake and weight. People with diabetes may experience a variety of eating disorders, including severe dietary restrictions, binge eating, and withholding life-saving insulin to try to lose weight. Eating disorders can contribute to diabetes-related complications including retinopathy, a form of blindness caused by damage to the blood vessels in and around the eyes; neuropathy, nerve damage commonly affecting the legs and feet; or nephropathy, a form of kidney damage. People with diabetes who have an eating disorder should seek help from healthcare professionals, including a mental health professional who has expertise in eating disorders and diabetes. These professionals should create a safe space for their patients by measuring weight less frequently and setting small, achievable goals to encourage healthy habits and better diabetes management. Learn more and find support at the resources below.

Individuals in Larger Bodies 

Due to stigma and misconceptions, people in larger bodies who experience eating disorders largely go undiagnosed and without treatment, especially compared to individuals at or below normal weight standards. Those in larger bodies are at an increased risk of using unhealthy, harmful weight control behaviors to meet societal or medical standards. Weight stigma is very often present in medical bias, with two-thirds of people who reported experiencing weight stigma reporting they were stigmatized by a healthcare professional. Weight stigmas are not only associated with disordered eating behaviors but are also connected to mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and chronic stress from discrimination. To support patients in larger bodies, healthcare professionals should ensure they listen to and treat the whole patient and avoid making assumptions about an individual’s health status based solely on weight or appearance. Learn more and find support at the resources below.

Pregnant and Postpartum People 

Eating disorders and pregnancy offer unique challenges and considerations. People with eating disorders may struggle with fertility issues or pregnancy complications like miscarriage, birth defects, or preterm birth. Pregnancy itself involves significant changes to the body, which can make people feel out of control and trigger thoughts about weight, size, shape, and body image in both people with and without a history of an eating disorder. Eating disorders in pregnant people often show similar signs and symptoms to those who are not pregnant, like restrictive eating, purging, negative thoughts about body image, or fear of gaining weight. Because of the risk of health problems for both parent and baby, it is important that people are honest with their healthcare professional about any concerning thoughts or disordered eating behaviors so they can get the care needed to stay healthy. It is equally important that patients express these feelings to their healthcare professional after pregnancy, as eating disorders and associated mental health conditions are common in the postpartum time period. Learn more and find support at the resources below.

Saturday: Talk About It: Supporting a Loved One

Eating disorders impact not only the individuals who are struggling but the people in their lives, too. Loved ones can be greatly affected by seeing someone they care about deal with an eating disorder but loved ones can also be strong sources of support and encouragement. If you are concerned about a friend or family member showing symptoms of an eating disorder, there are steps you can take to offer them support. It can be hard to know where to start, but the sooner you start talking about it, the sooner you can support your loved one to get the help they need and want.

A helpful first step is to learn about eating disorders, so you are informed when talking to your loved one. This includes learning about signs and symptoms, understanding facts and myths about eating disorders, learning the appropriate language to use and phrases to avoid, and exploring treatment options.

When preparing to talk to a loved one about your concern, practicing what you plan to say may be helpful. When having the conversation, it is important to clearly communicate your concerns, validate your loved one’s feelings and experiences, express the importance of seeking professional help, and be prepared for a potentially negative reaction.

For more information about preparing to talk to a loved one and communication tips, visit the resources below:

Supporting someone with an eating disorder can be challenging. It is equally important for loved ones to seek their own support during this time and get the mental health support they need. Feelings of guilt or helplessness are normal when trying to support a loved one experiencing an eating disorder. Support groups and resources are available.

Sunday: Getting Help that Works for You

Taking the first step to get help for an eating disorder can be difficult and takes courage. The sooner you reach out, the sooner you can find support and treatment. Treatment and recovery will look and feel different for everyone. Your journey is your own and may involve many different people like doctors, dieticians, mental health professionals, dentists, physical therapists, and, of course, your support network. Explore the resources below to learn more, find support, and explore treatment options.

Types of Treatment for Eating Disorders

Finding Treatment and Support

Get Help Now 

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