February 23 through March 1, 2014, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week; unfortunately, eating disorders won't go away when this week is over. For many women (and men!), being conscious of their body image and dietary intake is just a normal part of their daily routine. While many of these women strive to find a healthy balance in their relationship with themselves and their nutrition, for some, awareness can lead to obsession and eventually to an eating disorder. The goal of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is to spread the word about screening tests that can identify potentially dangerous eating behaviors and to let people know where to find help if a disorder threatens.

Monthly hormonal fluctuations create dietary fluctuations for many women; cravings for sweets, salty foods, high fat, and high carb foods can seem uncontrollable. These hormone-fueled cravings can be more irresistible than ever during pregnancy, nursing, and early motherhood. Women in the beginning stages of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) experience the same out-of-whack cravings as they undergo potent hormone therapies to prepare their bodies for treatment.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) includes specific eating disorders in its latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Each DSM-5 disorder comes with distinct basic characteristics and requires focused therapies to overcome them. Most healthcare insurance providers include benefits packages for disorders listed in the DSM-5, including eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Perhaps the most well-known eating disorder, anorexia nervosa characteristics include:

  • Severe restriction of food intake to levels well below what the body requires for minimum function.
  • Fear of and obsession with gaining weight.
  • Inability to “see” one’s true body shape (body dysmorphia).
  • Refusal to acknowledge the danger of the disorder.
  • Bingeing and purging may or may not be secondary behaviors.

Bulimia Nervosa

When ravenous amounts of food are eaten in a short amount of time followed by extreme measures to purge the food from the body, bulimia nervosa may be diagnosed:

  • Eating exaggerated amounts of food in one sitting, meal, or day.
  • Using extreme exercise, vomiting, and laxatives to expel the binged food.
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or out of control during the binge-purge cycle.
  • Harsh judgment of oneself based on size and shape.

Binge Eating Disorder

This disorder involves the bingeing without the purging of bulimia nervosa. People with this disorder will sometimes eat to the point of being physically uncomfortable.

There are other eating disorders in the DSM-5 and symptoms from one disorder may overlap those of another. People of every weight, size, and shape can develop an eating disorder at any point in life. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) provides resources all year long for identifying, screening, and treating eating disorders. Find a link to online screening tools on their website.

Source: “About Eating Disorders / What is an Eating Disorder?” NEDA. National Eating Disorders Association. n.d. Web. Feb 28, 2014.

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