February 21-27 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

This year, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is focusing on the importance of early intervention.  They are encouraging the public to take just 3 minutes to complete the confidential online eating disorders screening.

In an effort to educate our employer groups and individuals on health issues that may impact their employees we are also bringing you some basic information on two eating disorders.


What is it?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Anorexia sufferers refuse to maintain a body weight that is normal for their age, height and body type and are intensely fearful of gaining weight or being fat. The anorexic’s preoccupation with dieting and thinness leads to excessive weight loss, and this obsession often masks other psychological problems. Most people suffering from anorexia will not acknowledge or understand that they have a problem.

Signs and Symptoms

There are several symptoms warning of anorexia, including:

  • An intense fear of gaining weight
  • Feeling fat despite extreme weight loss
  • Cessation of menstrual periods in post-puberty girls and women
  • Extreme preoccupation with one’s body weight and shape
  • Dramatic weight loss and continued dieting even though already very thin
  • Obsession with weight, food, calories, fat grams and dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or restriction of whole categories of food, such as no carbohydrates
  • Frequent denial of hunger
  • Development of odd food rituals, such as eating foods in a certain order, cutting food into very small pieces or excessive chewing
  • Avoidance of mealtimes or situations that involve food
  • Hair loss
  • Lying about food or eating


The first and most important step is to ask for help. If you or someone you know is suffering from anorexia, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 800-931-2237 or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org. After asking for help, other steps include:

  • Restoring the sufferer to a healthy weight
  • Treating the underlying psychological issues that contributed to the disorder
  • Reducing and eliminating behaviors or thoughts that lead to disordered eating

Psychotherapy and certain medications (such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers) have been the most effective in dealing with anorexia. However, it depends largely on what works for the individual, as each person’s situation is different.


What is it?

Bulimia nervosa, commonly referred to as bulimia, is characterized by regularly eating large amounts of food (bingeing) in a short period of time, followed by behaviors such as self-induced vomiting to undo the effects of binge eating (purging). Bulimia can affect anyone at any age.


Bulimia can arise from a variety of social, emotional and physical issues. It is a complex condition that can have serious health consequences. While there is no single known cause of bulimia, it is thought that these factors may play a role:

  • Culture – Women in the U.S. are under constant pressure to be very thin. This “ideal” is not realistic for most women, and constantly seeing images of flawless bodies can result in a distorted body image.
  • Families – It is likely that bulimia runs in families; many people with bulimia have siblings or parents suffering from it as well.
  • Life changes or stressful events – A serious life change or very stressful time can trigger bulimic behaviors.
  • Psychology – Many who suffer from bulimia also have low self-esteem or a history of depression.
  • Biology – Genes, hormones and chemicals in the brain are thought to be possible triggers.

Signs and Symptoms

A person with bulimia may be of any weight, making it hard to detect. However, there are significant warning signs:

  • Using diet pills, or taking pills to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • Frequently going to the bathroom after eating or smells of vomiting
  • Exercising excessively, even if hurt or tired
  • Swollen cheeks or jaw area
  • Rough skin on knuckles due to using fingers to assist purging
  • Discolored teeth
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • Extreme worry of being overweight
  • Rampant moodiness


Those who struggle with bulimia usually require the help of a health care team to fully recover. This should include a doctor, nutritionist and therapist. Some patients are prescribed medication, but therapy is the most recommended form of treatment for bulimia at this time.

How to Get Help

If someone you know may be suffering from bulimia, it is important to get help as soon as possible. The earlier it is detected, the better their chances are for a full recovery.

  • Set a time to talk – Discuss your concerns with the person in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Be honest.
  • Talk to a professional – Insist that they see a counselor or physician. Offer to accompany them to the appointment as support.
  • Avoid conflicts – If your friend will not admit he or she has a problem, do not push. Be sure to tell him or her you are always available to talk.
  • Don’t place blame, shame or guilt and avoid saying things such as “You just need to eat.” Instead, explain how the behavior makes you feel, such as “It scares me to hear you throwing up.”

For more information, visit the National Eating Disorders Association at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

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