In a culture obsessed with dieting and weight loss, eating disorders often go undetected or are dismissed as simply a focus on diet. Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that affect 30 million Americans (20 million women and 10 million men), and require treatment.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population and suicide is the leading cause of death for those with the disorder.

In addition, eating disorders often co-occur with other mental illnesses. Approximately 50-75 percent of those with an eating disorder also suffer from depression. However, because of the stigma surrounding eating disorders and mental health, only one in 10 will seek treatment.

Seeking treatment for an eating disorder is a sign of strength. If you or someone you love is struggling, it’s important to know the warning signs for both eating disorders and suicide.

Eating disorder warning signs:

  • Constant adherence to increasingly strict diets, regardless of weight
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Secretly bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Exercising compulsively, often several hours per day
  • Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present
  • Preoccupation with weight, body size and shape, or specific aspects of one’s appearance
  • Obsessing over calorie intake and calories burned via exercise, even as one may be losing significant amounts of weight

The National Eating Disorder Association provides more information on the types of eating disorders and signs and symptoms at:

Suicide warning signs:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings provides more information on the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, need to be viewed and treated like physical illnesses. As with most illnesses, early intervention and detection are the keys to recovery.

This week, February 22-28, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, an annual campaign that brings attention to the critical needs of people with eating disorders and their families. The National Eating Disorder Association and Screening for Mental Health, Inc. are offering free, anonymous online eating disorder self-assessments at