Happy Eating Disorder Awareness Week!
EDAW is February 1st – 7th, and this years theme is #NotAChoice.
I love this theme and the truth it speaks, and it got me thinking. I tend to talk a lot about what eating disorders are, so here is a list of things eating disorders are not.
I feel like I will continue saying this until my dying day, but eating disorders are mental illnesses with physical side effects. An eating disorder is not about being thin, it is not about being pretty, it is not about being desirable. Eating disorders are not diets. They are not controlled actions, they are illnesses. Eating disorders commonly occur in people who have engaged in dieting, but they are not synonymous. Weight is often something that is associated with eating disorders, and while there can be ties between the two, weight has so little to do with what eating disorders really are.
In my case, my eating disorder took over my life. Sure, it started out with wanting to be smaller, wanting to feel good about my body. But that ideology was short lived. My eating disorder became about control, it became about numbers. I hardly ever looked at my body, because the body itself stopped mattering at all. What mattered was the number of calories that were going into my body. To minimize eating disorders into something that is only about appearance is to completely disregard the struggle that so many people go through within their own mind.
What is considered to be ‘glamorous’ can vary a lot depending on who you talk to. However, I think that things that are not glamorous can often be agreed upon. When I think about loss of bladder control from abusing laxatives, glamorous is not the first thing that comes to my mind. When your hair starts to fall out, your skin turns yellow, and your fingernails start chipping, glamorous is not exactly how you feel in that moment. When your singing voice is ruined from purging, you don’t feel special. When your body is covered in peach fuzz called lanugo, from your face to your chest, everywhere, you do not feel sexy. When you lose your friends, your significant other, when you push away your family and your grades start to drop, you do not feel interesting.
This is one in which the stigma is definitely still strong with. When you hear the term ‘eating disorder’, or even ‘body image’ the person that will come to your mind is a youth. Maybe a preteen, a high school student, or a young adult. Very rarely will you visualize a middle aged person, or an elderly person. There is the misconception that there is a certain age where you ‘are passed that’. A misconception that there is a certain age in which your mind flips a switch and goes ‘nope, no longer able to develop that kind of mental illness, sorry!’. This misconception is dangerous, and keeps so many adults from seeking the help they need because of the shame they feel from suffering with a ‘teenage problem’.
Stats on adults and eating disorders:
- In 2003, 1/3 of inpatient admissions to a specialized treatment center for eating disorders were over 30 years old.
- A major research project found that more than 20% of the women aged 70 and older were dieting, even though higher weight poses a very low risk for death at that age, and weight loss may actually be harmful
- 60% of adult women have engaged in pathogenic weight control; 40% are restrained eaters; 40% are overeaters; only 20% are instinctive eaters; 50% say their eating is devoid of pleasure and causes them to feel guilty; 90% worry about their weight
- 43 million adult women in the United States are dieting to lose weight at any given time and another 26 million are dieting to maintain their weight.
(retrieved from X)
Considering the fact that so much pressure exists on all people to look a certain way, and that ‘certain way’ is based on Eurocentric beauty, it is fundamentally flawed to believe that only white people can suffer from eating disorders. The white beauty standard is whiteness, and this becomes society’s default ideas for beauty. Based on this, it makes sense that POC feel more pressure to look a certain way that is dangerous and unachievable.
One stereotype that I think really does keep WOC from reaching out for help is the idea that black women are supposed to be strong at all times. They deal with sexism and racism simultaneously, and so there is the idea that if a black women were to suffer from disordered eating then she is not fitting into the ‘black women box’. While WOC may not be as represented in the research or in therapy programs it does not mean that they do not suffer from disordered eating, it means that they are not likely to report that they are.
**These findings suggest Hispanic and Asian girls may be at greater risk for adopting eating disorder behaviors than previously recognized.
**“I am not white and I have an eating disorder” – interview with Nalgona Positive Gloria L.
**Eating Disorders and Women of Colour
**Who Gets Treatment? Your Ethnicity Matters
**Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate
In a similar way to the two above points, the misconception that eating disorders only affect women is dangerous for those of all other genders who suffer from eating disorders but feel shame for experiencing a ‘woman’s disease’. All genders are able to suffer from an eating disorder, despite their gender, sexual orientation, or romantic interests. Media representations of eating disorders and eating disorder recovery is limited, but even more limited is coverage of or characters depicting men or transgender individuals suffering from disordered eating. This can often be attributed to toxic masculinity, fear of their own bodies, and embarrassment of admitting to disordered eating in general.
Transgender individuals, who can frequently suffer from body dysmorphia, often resort to disordered eating behaviours because of the discomfort they feel in their own bodies, and the lack of control they have over it.
Statistics on gender and eating disorders
- In a study of 1,383 adolescents, the prevalence of any DSM-5 ED in males was reported to be 1.2% at 14 years, 2.6% at 17 years, and 2.9% at 20 years
- looking at male sexuality and eating disorders, higher percentage of gay (15%) than heterosexual males (5%) had diagnoses of ED (Feldman, 2007), but when these percentages are applied to population figures, the majority of males with ED are heterosexual.
- Men with eating disorders often suffer from comorbid conditions such as depression, excessive exercise, substance disorders, and anxiety (Weltzin, 2014).
- transgender youth were four times more likely to report an eating disorder diagnosis than their cisgender heterosexual female peers
- Rates of past-year SR-ED (self-reported eating disorder) diagnosis and past-month use of diet pills and vomiting or laxatives were highest among transgender students
(retrieved from X / X / X / X )
Only Anorexia and Bulimia
Anorexia and bulimia are eating disorders that are serious mental illnesses, however they are not the only eating disorders that are serious mental illnesses. The idea that anorexia and bulimia are the only eating disorders that exist or that are worthy of help is exceptionally deadly. While these two may be the most well known eating disorders because they are often portrayed in the media, they are not the most common.
An Indication of Intelligence
I am not less intelligent because I suffer from an eating disorder. I do not suffer from an eating disorder because I lack the mental capacity to understand that I need food to survive. I am not vain, I am not obsessed with myself, I am not unaware of the world around me. Some studies have actually found that children at risk of eating disorders have a higher IQ. As I continue to take on recovery and learn to create a healthy relationship with food it is not intelligence I am gaining, but resilience.