It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which means it’s time to speak up. Speak up to prevent eating disorders. Speak up for people who are currently struggling with eating disorders. And more importantly, listen: Listen to the stories of people who live with eating disorders, and encourage those who need that extra push to seek the help they deserve. Talking about eating disorders, not just this week but every week, could encourage people to seek help sooner, and literally save lives.
Here are some ways to get involved:
1. Get screened or encourage a loved one to get screened.
It takes only three minutes to complete the confidential online screening for eating disorders, which helps determine if it’s time to seek professional help. Getting screened is important because early intervention matters. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, intervening during the early stages of an eating disorder can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing the onset of a full-blown eating disorder. If you’re worried about a loved one or yourself, take three minutes. It’s worth it.
2. Challenge the “thin ideal.”
Most people — eating disorder or not — have been taught to believe thin equals good. According to a 2010 poll, almost nine in 10 American teenage girls say they feel pressured by the fashion and media industries to be skinny. The National Eating Disorder Association suggests to help combat the “thin ideal,” challenge the false belief that thinness, weight loss and/or muscularity are desirable, while body fat and weight gain are shameful or indicate laziness or worthlessness. Be critical of the media you consume, and don’t judge others based on their body weight.
3. Watch your language.
Pay attention to how you talk about your own weight or about the weight of others. What may seem like a passing comment (“I feel so fat today!” “I would die to be that skinny.”) can be triggering for someone living with an eating disorder. Educate yourself about healthy ways to talk about eating and food — even if you don’t have an eating disorder, you’ll benefit from a viewpoint about food that isn’t shaped by the “thin ideal.”
4. Follow inspiring recovery stories with #RecoveryIs and #WhatMakesMeBeautiful.
Project HEAL is using the hashtag #RecoveryIs to spread awareness about eating disorder recovery. The pictures from this campaign prove recovery is possible, and send messages of hope to anyone who isn’t quite there yet. #WhatMakesMeBeautiful is spreading body positivity, celebrating what truly makes people beautiful.
— Project HEAL (@TheProjectHEAL) February 26, 2014
— Lindsey Hall (@lindseyhallblog) September 24, 2015
— C h l o é (@C_daaaaawg) July 19, 2015
5. Talk about eating disorders — and push for action.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is about spreading stories, but also about educating others about what the eating disorder community needs. The scary reality is that only one in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment, and for those who do get treatment, it can be difficult to get insurance coverage. The National Eating Disorders Coalition found in a survey of 109 eating disorder specialists around the country, nearly all believed their patients with anorexia are put in life threatening situations because of early discharge due to lack of coverage. If you don’t see the seriousness in that, consider this: Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
Men are also often left out of the eating disorders conversation. According to the National Eating Disorder Association’s website, eating disorders “have been characterized as ‘women’s problems’ and men have been stigmatized from coming forward.” Minorities and adults also are hurt from the stereotype that eating disorders only affect young, white women.
Conversation is just the beginning. For more information about National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, visit NEDA Awareness. To help make eating disorders a public health priority in the United States, visit the Eating Disorders Coalition and get involved.