National Nutrition Month is an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign, celebrated each year during March, focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme is “To increase the public’s awareness of the importance of good nutrition and position registered dietitian nutritionists as the authorities in nutrition.” Registered dietitians and nutritionists play an exceptionally significant role in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, which affect 30 million individuals in the United States. The most common eating disorders are binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa and each one of these common eating disorders can present differently in each and carry lifelong consequences.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder classified by the weak disturbance in body shape and image resulting in the refusal to maintain minimum body weight. Individuals will go to extreme measures not only to starve themselves but also to rid their bodies of any caloric intake they consumed through self-purging mechanisms such as self-induced vomiting, laxative, diuretics, and extreme exercise. This devastating eating disorder is the number one killer out of all the mental health disorders, and up to four percent of women in the United States have a lifetime prevalence of this disorder compared to 0.1-0.3% of men. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of all mental health disorders, and as a result, professional treatment is necessary before complication arise.

Binge eating disorder

Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, and it affects 3.5% of women and 2% of men and up to 1.6% of adolescents. Binge eating is known to lead to the development of unwanted weight gain, compulsive overeating and even “obesity” resulting in feelings of guilt and further negative emotions potentially causing co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression. This is often mistaken for overeating, and it is essential that the differences between these two concepts are fully understood among the general public. It is possible for an individual diagnosed with a binge-eating disorder to consume as much as 3,400 calories in little more than an hour, and as much as 20,000 calories in eight hours. Unlike bulimia and anorexia nervosa, there is no compensatory purging behavior such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative abuse associated with a binge-eating disorder. For binge-eating disorder to be diagnosed an individual must partake in binging episodes on average at least once a week for a three-month duration, the individual must have feelings of marked distress over these binging episodes and have a loss of control over the amount of food they eat. Additionally, at least three of the following factors must be present:

  • Rapid eating
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much is being consumed
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a severe emotional eating disorder that involves eating excessive amounts of food in a short period (binging) followed by guilt and shame leading to self-induced vomiting, extreme exercise, or laxative abuse

(purging). Many refer to it as the binge and purge eating disorder. Bulimia nervosa is the second most common eating disorder, after binge-eating disorder, in the United States. The average age of diagnosis is 15 years of age; individuals with bulimia nervosa battle this disorder for eight years, on average. Unlike anorexia nervosa, only 3.5 percent of individuals are considered underweight whereas the majority of these individuals have normal body weight and even some are considered overweight. The following are diagnostic criteria associated with bulimia nervosa:

  • Eating excessive amounts of food in two hours (binging) accompanied by feelings of loss of self-control
  • Repetitive inappropriate self-induced compensated behaviors such a vomiting, diuretic use, laxative use and extreme exercise (purging) to avoid weight gain potentially causes by the binging episodes
  • These behaviors occur at least once a week for at least three months in duration
  • Body shape and weight are the main influencing factors of this binging and purging behavior
  • These behaviors do not occur specifically with anorexia nervosa, and these disorders must be completely separated