Every Body Should Have a Seat at the Table

Feb. 22, 2021

February 22nd through February 28th Is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health and substance use disorders. An article that was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders (2020) indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase the risk and symptoms of eating disorders. Some examples include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. The article also states that the pandemic can both decrease factors that prevent eating disorders and exacerbate barriers to care. This is because the disruption to daily routines and limitations on outdoor activities could increase concerns about body shape and weight and those same circumstances can limit support and coping strategies. Video conferencing could provoke concerns about weight and appearance. The pandemic can also ignite fears related to a person's health and could increase symptoms of an eating disorder, such as restrictive dieting. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) states that eating disorders can negatively impact a person's cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and neurological systems. Inadequate nutrition can decrease the number of certain types of blood cells, including white blood cells which results in a decreased ability to fight infection. This contributes to the high mortality rate among individuals with eating disorders, which, according to verywellmind.com, is the highest among all mental illnesses.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and being inside or isolated can cause overeating or eating a large amount of unhealthy snacks out of boredom. Generally speaking, people do not often know that they have an eating disorder because the person does not consider their eating habits to be a serious problem. This is particular dangerous because eating disorders can cause a number of serious medical problems," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA.

It is also important to recognize that eating disorders impact people from all demographics and are not caused by one single factor. For example, according to the NEDA, people with disabilities could experience unique stressors, such as prejudice and being excluded from activities, that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. The NEDA states that Black teenagers are 50 percent more likely than White teenagers to engage in bulimic behavior and Latinx adolescents are more likely to experience bulimia nervosa than non-Latinx individuals. Members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer-or-questioning-plus (LGBTQ+) community are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders than heterosexual individuals due to a fear of rejection or experiences of rejection, internalized negative messages, and an inability to meet body image ideals in some cultural contexts. As a result, these groups can experience barriers to support and treatment.

"It is important to recognize that disordered eating impacts all types of people from different social groups. This awareness can be a critical component in eating disorder prevention, treatment and recovery. A person can be healthy at a range of different weights. We should also appreciate the differences that people have and treat people with respect, while also encouraging healthy behaviors and lifestyles," said Dr. Wentz.

February 22nd to February 28th is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is hosted by NEDA. The goal of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is to bring attention to eating disorders through education, sharing resources and spreading a message of hope for recovery. The theme for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is "Every Body Should Have a Seat at the Table". This year, NEDA is encouraging marginalized communities to engage in conversations about raising awareness, share stories from individuals of all backgrounds and challenge systemic biases. Resources, such as infographics, presentations and videos, from the National Eating Disorders Association can be accessed here.

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