Eating disorders are serious, life threatening illnesses that plague millions of people around the world. February 23 to March 1 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week). The theme this year is “I had no idea” in order to display the number of people suffering and raise awareness for the diseases.

According to the NEDAwareness Week website, the goal of the week is to “ultimately increase outreach and awareness of eating disorders or body image issues, while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment resources.”

There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. All of them include extreme emotions, attitudes and feelings about food and exercise.

People suffering from any eating disorder may make frequent comments about feeling fat or overweight or wear baggy clothes to hide their body.

Some people even develop certain food rituals, such as only eating foods of a certain food group, not allowing food to touch or chewing for a really long along time. They may also chew a lot of gum, eat a lot of mints or use a lot of mouthwash in order to mask their feelings of hunger and thoughts about food.

They may also uphold an excessive exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue or injury because they feel the need to burn off extra calories.

With celebrities like singer Ke$ha going into rehab for anorexia and “Pretty Little Liars” star Troian Bellisario coming out in a recent “Seventeen Magazine” interview about her past struggles with the disorder, anorexia has been in the spotlight as of late.

Symptoms of anorexia include restricting food intake, intense fear of weight gain and obsession with weight control, obsessive, unhealthy exercising and the inability to recognize true body shape or seriousness of the condition.

While anorexia may be in the spotlight more often, that does not mean it is any more serious than the other disorders.

Bulimia is another disorder that people sometimes have when they are obsessed with being thin.

Symptoms of bulimia include eating an unusually large amount of food at one time followed by puking it up later, feeling out of control during binge eating and self-judgement based upon weight and shape.

Sometimes people with bulimia will vomit in jars and keep it as a prize for how much work they are putting into being skinny.

Most people think that eating disorders only have to do with an obsession with being thin and that the affected person’s behaviors will be readily apparent because of their low weight and starvation habits. However, there is no weight requirement for having an eating disorder and can affect anyone at any weight.

The third most common disorder is binge eating disorder. People with this disorder often eat unhealthy amounts of food in one sitting, usually to mask some emotional pain. The binge session is often followed with serious feelings of guilt and remorse, which can sometimes lead to further bingeing.

People suffering from binge eating disorder may eat until the point of discomfort.

Barbie is often an image that girls are faced with as the “ideal” body type. Here is what she would look like if she were life-sized. Photo courtesy of NEDAwareness

What to do

If you think that a friend or family member may be suffering from an eating disorder, you can calmly explain your concerns and give your friend or family member plenty of space to talk about their feelings. Do not jump in with judgmental comments, that will only push your friend away.

Remind your loved one that other people have successfully overcome eating disorders and offer to go with him or her to seek help.

However, do not go behind his or her back to a parent, friend or healthcare professional. It is not likely to result in anything good.

If you want to get involved in the NEDAwareness Week campaign, there are a variety of ways to do so.

This year, the NEDA staff are partnering with Instagram to promote their #CaptureHope campaign during the week. The staff are asking for people to post photos of anything that inspires hope for them. Use the hashtag #CaptureHope and follow the staff and volunteers to see what they are posting @NEDAstaff.

Michelle Liringis is the Lifestyle Editor for the 2013-2014 year. She is an English major with a journalism minor and has been working with the Niner Times since her freshman year.