Thirty million Americans will struggle with some type of eating disorder during their lifetime, and a large percentage of them will begin to experience these complex mental and physical illnesses during young adulthood. Yet, we rarely talk about them in a serious way. In fact, many of us joke about them, as in the film Miss Congeniality when lead character Gracie Hart references a fellow pageant contestant's eating habits, noting, "She's gonna throw it up anyway." Other times I hear folks saying things like, "I need to be anorexic so that I can fit into that dress."
We don't say or laugh at these things with the intention to shame the people who struggle with these serious disorders. We just don't think about what we're saying because we haven't had an honest conversation about what it all means and who it might affect.
Many of us have not struggled with eating disorders, but most of us know someone who has. If you are like me, you have cared about someone who has struggled, and you have wrestled with how to bring it up, talk about it, give support, stick around when you're met with anger and isolation, and be a relaxed friend while the eating disorder is still the elephant in the room. Eating disorders do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, and yet we're not having a productive conversation about them because we're scared, ashamed, ill-equipped, and often angry.
This year, Active Minds, Inc. is taking a two-part approach to discussing eating disorders during Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 26-March 2, 2013). As always, we will reach out to folks who are struggling with eating disorders and are contemplating seeking the help they need. We want to give those folks hope and let them know that with the right treatment recovery is possible.
Active Minds will also be working to spark more conversations with friends, partners, sisters, brothers, and parents of those who are struggling. We want to equip them with knowledge and strategies to approach a friend for the first time and help them through the days when their loved one is trying to get better but the road has gotten bumpy and frustrating.
Our theme this year is, "Get Back-Up. Be Back-Up," and it represents our desire for those who are struggling to seek a support network, while reminding loved ones that recovery is a team approach and they are critical members of that team.
Active Minds has developed a number of resources that are available at our website by clicking on "Action Kit." These resources will assist you in showing your support for Eating Disorders Awareness Week as well as provide you with information about the different types of eating disorders and the many things you can do on your campus or in your community to spread awareness about this issue.
There, you'll also find instructions for submitting a short Eating Disorders Awareness Week vlog entry. This year, we are asking people who have struggled with eating disorders and/or their loved ones to submit their stories of how they've helped or been helped by a friend. We want to hear about what strategies were and were not successful, and we look forward to hearing your stories of hope and recovery.
Eating disorders are serious mental and physical illnesses that deserve an open and informed conversation. This year, join us in speaking up about the complexities of eating disorders, and let's help each other discover new ways to be back-up to someone who is struggling.
 Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. Epidemiology of eating disorders. In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.). New York: Wiley, 2011. p. 343-360.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.