While it can be hard to love yourself just as you are, the people behind National Eating Disorder Awareness Week are hoping to change that. This year's week-long campaign started Sunday with the theme "everybody knows somebody" to emphasize that eating disorders know no boundaries.
"We're hoping to bring education and awareness on a grand scale to the public so they can better understand this illness and hopefully help us steer people torward the help they need," says Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of National Eating Disorders Association. "Last year we tried to focus on the fact that it could happen to any individual—a mother, a sister, a daughter, a brother. This year we're hoping to focus on the cultural and ethnic diversity."
While eating disorders are often thought of as something that affect only women, the reality is anyone can fall victim to one. In fact, male eating disorders account for almost 10 percent of all cases. Perhaps even more depressing is that a 2012 study found that eating disorders in children are increasing.
The signs of an eating disorder can vary from person to person, Bonnie Brennan, clinical director of Eating Recovery Center's Adult Partial Hospitaliation Program told SHAPE in a previous post. Common symptoms include an intense fear of being fat, weight loss, avoiding situations in which expected to eat food, using the bathroom directly after a meal, excessive exercise, having conversations that are highly centered on food or calories or weight, "having to" prepare separate meals, and fear of not knowing what ingredients are included in foods (such as at a restaurant).
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But it's also important to remember that eating disorders are really less about food and more about underlying issues such as a feeling of a loss of control over life or low self-esteem.
"They're much more about how a person's feeling about themselves, and they show dissatisfaction and anxiety through their behavior with food," Grefe says. "We should remember that we come in all different shapes and sizes and that one is not better than the other."
Think of eating disorders as you would any other serious illness, Grefe stresses. "It's important to remember that they're nobody's fault. People don't develop them on purpose."
If you suspect a loved on may have an eating disorder, Brennan recommends finding a neutral setting and time to meet, and then expressing your concerns gently.
"When speaking with your friend, use non-judgmental language and 'I' statements," she says. "It is okay to point out behaviors and emotions you have noticed, but avoid blaming or shaming. Be prepared to listen and don’t try to problem solve. Offer to help your friend find a professional to talk to."
Grefe adds, "It's important to remember that love and support are vital."