Trigger warning: Eating disorders.
Eating disorders – such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder – are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect both a person’s emotional and physical health. In the United States alone, 30 million people will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. Eating disorders can include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. These conditions affect all kinds of people and don’t discriminate by race, age, sex, age or size.
In our media saturated culture, it is hard to escape the onslaught of messages about our bodies. Eating disorders are complex illnesses with complex roots. We can’t blame the media, but we do know that this steady stream of unrealistic ideals and digital illusions of perfection creates an environment where eating disorders and poor body image thrive. Many schoolaged girls are influenced by what they read in popular magazines, making them feel that they need to diet to achieve the ideal figure. The work of changing the media means recognizing and celebrating advertisements that send healthy body image messages, as well as taking the time to express our concerns about advertisements that send negative body image messages or promote unrealistic ideals. Being a savvy, critical consumer of media is crucial in the fight against eating disorders.
There are many stereotypes about what a person with an eating disorder looks like, but the truth is that these illnesses do not discriminate. Men and women of all ethnic backgrounds, ages, sizes, and sexualities are susceptible to poor body image and disordered eating. While women are more commonly affected by eating disorders, 10 million men and boys will battle some form of the illness at some point in their lifetime and, due in large part to stereotypes and cultural bias, males are much less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder.
Body image problems, disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders are common among athletes. Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk especially those competing in sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding, gymnastics, and running, which tend to place an emphasis on the athlete’s diet, appearance, size, and weight requirements.
While eating disorders may first appear to be solely about food and weight preoccupations, those who struggle with them are often using their disordered eating to cope with feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming. Bullying can trigger feelings of shame, isolation and hopelessness. It can also be a trigger for eating disorders. Bullying and weight-related discrimination are commonplace in a culture that glorifies thinness and ridicules people of larger sizes. Unfortunately, weight discrimination occurs more frequently than age or gender discrimination.
If you notice that someone is struggling with an eating disorder, or are concerned that they might be, reach out and provide them with assistance. February is Eating Disorders Awareness Month. To learn more, visit the National Eating Disorder Awareness website.
You can also bring awareness to eating disorders by looking at and selecting the awareness tab at My Identity Doctor.