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Worth of Mouth - The latest on business, wellness and more

Word of Mouth

The latest on business, wellness and more 

Eating disorder awareness

About 9% of Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, races and sexual orientations, and may not always have obvious symptoms. In 2023, February 27 through March 5 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and the perfect time to learn a bit about these illnesses, what resources are available to help understand them and how you can help someone who may be struggling.

What is an eating disorder?

Put broadly, eating disorders are illnesses characterized by unhealthy preoccupations with food and weight. The three most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa (anorexia). Anorexia is a condition where people avoid food or severely restrict their food intake.
  • Bulimia nervosa (bulimia). Bulimia is a condition where people have recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food and a feeling of helplessness at being unable to control these episodes. This “bingeing” is then followed by attempts to compensate for overeating, such as forced vomiting, abuse of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercise or fasting or any combination of these behaviors.
  • Binge-eating disorder (bingeing). Bingeing is a condition where people have recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food. Like bulimia, this condition includes a feeling that the sufferer can’t control the amount of food they eat during a binge. However, unlike with bulimia, this overeating is not followed by attempts to purge. Binge-eating is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

What can I do to help someone struggling with an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a complex illness and it’s not possible to alleviate someone’s suffering with this condition. However, it is helpful to offer support, empathy and encouragement to seek treatment. Here’s how:

  • Know the signs. Depending on the eating disorder, this can include preoccupation with weight, food and dieting; discomfort eating around others; noticeable increases or decreases in weight; dizziness, fainting or weakness; swelling below the ears; dry skin, brittle nails, and tooth damage or cavities.
  • Share your concerns. When speaking with someone about their eating disorder, use factual “I” statements so that the other person doesn’t feel attacked. For example, say “I’ve noticed that you seem to be uncomfortable eating in front of other people,” instead of “You’re not eating around other people anymore.”
  • Encourage professional help. Eating disorders can’t be tackled alone. In addition to organizations that offer support and guidance, it can be very helpful for people suffering from eating disorders to see a physician or therapist. Organizations like the National Alliance for Eating Disorders have search tools that make it simple to find professional help. If your company offers employee assistance programs, they may be a valuable resource in seeking help as well.

What resources are available to share with employees?

The Wellness Library has an article you can share with employees that may help them understand how eating disorders affect their oral health and how they can seek treatment. Additionally, there are websites and helplines that offer support. The National Eating Disorders Association has a helpline, as well an always-available Crisis Text Line. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder also has a helpline and references for support groups, treatment centers and more.