Eating disorders affect nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide, according to the nonprofit ANAD
, which provides support services for people with these conditions.
And yet in a culture in which fat shaming and restrictive eating are prevalent, it can be easy for eating disorder behaviors to become normalized, said Jennifer Rollin, founder of The Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland.
But these conditions threaten both a joyful and healthy life, she added. As Eating Disorders Awareness Week
begins, experts share insights into what eating disorders are, what to look for and what to do if you think you see one.
To put it simply, an "eating disorder is a psychiatric disorder, characterized by found disturbances in eating and feeding behavior that causes significant impairment to one's ability to function normally," said Stuart Murray, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Southern California and director of the Translational Research in Eating Disorders Laboratory.
More specifically, eating disorders are biopsychosocial illnesses, added Leah Graves, vice president for nutrition and culinary services for Accanto Health, a health system for eating disorder treatment.
Inherited traits as well as psychological factors such as temperament and personality and social factors such as bullying, stigma and trauma come together to contribute to someone developing an eating disorder, she added.
But just because people may have eating disorders in their family and might have inherited predispositions, it doesn't mean they will develop a disorder, Graves said.
What an eating disorder isn't
Eating disorders are not a choice, said Lauren Smolar, vice president of mission and education for the National Eating Disorders Association.
Some may suggest that persons with eating disorders simply change their eating habits and then they will be fixed, but the problem goes much deeper, Smolar said.
Eating disorders can affect anyone, and they are not reserved for young, affluent White women as stereotypes often portray, the USC's Murray said.