It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an organized effort to bring attention to the critical needs of people with eating disorders and their families. The annual campaign by the  National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) kicked off Sunday and runs through Feb. 28.

Bruno Vincent, Getty Images

This year's theme, "I Had No Idea...." will focus on the importance of recognizing the diverse experiences of people affected by disordered eating. Throughout the week, thousands of people will come together in communities across the country to host events to raise awareness about body image and the severity of eating disorders.

Each day will focus on a different challenge, including:

  • The role of the media - Look at media images with a critical eye before criticizing yourself;
  • Diversity - Eating disorders don't discriminate. They can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, etc.;
  • Athletes and eating disorders - Did you know athletes are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder;
  • Bullying and eating disorders in youth - Bullying is a major contributor to eating disorders; 65 percent say that it factored into their struggle;
  • Dieting and eating disorders - 35 percent of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25 percent develop an eating disorder;
  • The role of the medical community - Eating disorders are often overlooked/misdiagnosed by medical professionals;
  • The role of parents - Parents don't cause eating disorders. They can be a major part of recovery.

"What you don't know can hurt you or someone you love. It is time to get the conversation going in communities across the country. We need to educate ourselves to recognize the signs of eating disorders, which kill more people than any other mental disorder. But there is hope and there is help, particularly with early intervention," said Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA, in a press release emailed on Feb 9.

In New Jersey alone, more than 300,000 people are suffering with an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. That includes more than 91,500 men and about 209,000 women.

Forty-four-year-old Princeton resident Kari Adams is among them. She has suffered with an eating disorder most of her life. Her official diagnosis was EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Classified).

Her symptoms began in middle school, but she did not get into treatment until the age of 41. "It always came up during times of major stress and transition and it came up in different forms. In middle school, it started with a diet. That led to starving, then binging and purging. In college, it led to more binging and purging behavior. I would binge-drink," she said.

When she got engaged, Adams started over-exercising. "Exercising is socially acceptable, so I took it to the extreme. Everything I did was in an effort to control my weight, how I looked, what I put in my mouth and what I didn't," she said.

It wasn't until Adams went through a divorce that her eating disorder spiraled out of control. "My eating disorder was the one thing I was using to cope and self-medicate and not think about my other issues."

She went to California to visit her family for Christmas and they staged an intervention. At that point, she got help and has been in recovery ever since. "Every year that's gone by, I'm less and less affected by it because I worked it. I worked really hard at it and I still work it every day," she said.

Signs of a possible eating disorder include the following:

  • Disappearing after eating
  • Pale Complexion
  • Depression
  • Strange eating habits
  • Dieting

For free and anonymous online screenings for eating disorders, visit