Healthy Living: National Eating Disorders Week raises awareness of illnesses

3/3/2017 | Debbie Gardner

Category: March 2017

It affects the lives of 30 million Americans, encompassing all age groups, genders, races and socio-economic groups.

Yet eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating and other specified feeding and eating disorder behaviors – are among the least discussed forms of mental illness.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is working to change that status by declaring Feb. 27 to March 4 National Eating Disorders Awareness Week for 2017.    

“Eating disorders have the highest mortality of any mental illness [and] anorexia has the highest mortality of any eating disorder,” said Fiona LaRosa-Waters, community relations specialist for Walden Behavioral Care, which maintains an eating disorder clinic in Amherst. “It’s a silent and deadly disease, similar to addiction.”

She said the goal of Eating Disorder Awareness Week is to “decrease the frequency of these diseases and get people help sooner, and to make people aware that there are agencies out there so they can get help.”

Giving a voice to suffering

Once a little-known condition, anorexia nervosa – in which sufferers self-starve and have an intense fear of weigh gain or being overweight even though underweight  – came to public attention when pop singer Karen Carpenter died from complications of the illness at age 32 on Feb. 4, 1983. Since that time many other celebrities have come forward to talk about their struggles with eating, weight and body image, most recently Demi Lovato, who disclosed her struggle with bulimia.

Bulimia is a eating disorder in which sufferers regularly consume large amounts of food, suffer a feeling of loss of control over eating and compensate through extreme exercise, vomiting, fasting or the use of diuretics or laxatives.

Statistics show that approximately 4 percent of both anorexia and bulimia sufferers will die from complications brought on by their eating disorder.

LaRosa-Waters noted that the increase in awareness of all types of eating disorders has shown the illnesses affect more than just young women, who were the focus of much of the research in the 1980s.

“We know there are men with eating disorders,” LaRosa-Waters said, indicating that this group, as well as athletes and individuals from a broad range of ethnic and socio-economic groups are now beginning to get the attention they need to find help. She said a recent update in the diagnostic criteria used to identify eating disorders has helped broaden the classification of who is seen as suffering from these illnesses.

Where to find help

LaRosa-Waters said there are several websites where concerned family and friends can find information on how to talk to a child, spouse, sibling or friend about an eating disorder.

The National Eating Disorders Association website at offers advice on how to help under the tab marked “learn.” It also offers links to family and friend online support under the tab marked “help and support.” Family and friends can also find direction by calling NEDA’s helpline at 800-931-2237.

Another website, Eating Disorder Hope,, contains a compilation of information for eating disorder sufferers and their families, including specific information on the different disorders, treatment options and self-help strategies.

LaRosa-Waters said there are also assessment tools available online for individuals who think they may be suffering from an eating disorder, but don’t know how to start dealing with it. One such simple assessment, “Four Ways to Get Help for an Eating Disorder” can be found on the Walden website,, along with other helpful articles, under the blog tab.

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