Eating disorders awareness focuses on triggers, early intervention

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COLUMBIA - Eating disorders affect as many as 24 million people of all ages in the U.S. and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is National Eating Disorders Awareness week.

This year's theme is "I Had No Idea" and will focus on the importance of early intervention and recognizing the diverse experiences of people affected by the disorders.

The goals of National Eating Disorders Association include putting a spotlight on the seriousness of eating disorders and improving public understanding of their causes, triggers and treatments.

Phoebe Wan, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Missouri Student Health Center, said eating disorders can cause many effects, including death.

"Eating disorders, like many addictions, actually tend to take away your life in many different ways," Wan said.

Some people become so frustrated with their own eating habits they become afraid to eat in front of others, she said. Eating disorders can also make it difficult to enjoy a social life, Wan said, and those obsessed with restricting their eating habits can also become more depressed, anxious, and irritable. 

Wan said various factors contribute to someone having an eating disorder.

"Sometimes it might be related to the biology, the genetics, family history, and then there might be a combination of culture factors," Wan said.

How the media present perfect body images can be a trigger, she said.

Although many think eating disorders mainly affect women, Wan said, studies show that men are increasingly becoming affected as well.

She said some men the center sees have a binge eating disorder.

"There are some who have become very obsessed with protein and protein-related diet, do a lot of exercises to build muscles," Wan said.

Positive body image can be promoted by appreciating what your body does, being kind to your body and embracing imperfection, she said.

The University of Missouri's Counseling Center, Women's Center, Wellness Center and many other organizations will host various events throughout the week to educate and promote positive body image.