Removing the Stigma Around Eating Disorders

Food is an essential part of life. We need to eat to live. This sounds simple, but many struggle with this idea. Living in a society that is obsessed with weight loss and being skinny, many have found themselves developing eating disorders, whether they know it or not.

This past week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Eating disorders are defined as a mental and physical illness that affects the eating patterns of people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. It can be caused by a multitude of things: stress, societal pressures, body image, etc. There are different types of eating disorders; however, the main three are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is defined by restrictive food intake and dramatic weight loss. Bulimia nervosa is the alternation of binge eating and then purging. Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa but without the purging and often attached with feelings of shame and guilt.

Developing these disorders does not just happen overnight. We often do not treat our bodies with the respect they deserve. Sometimes, we skip a meal here and there, but this can easily develop into skipping two meals a day, and then three meals a day. Personally, I went through a phase from September to February where I did not consume nearly as much food as I should have. I remember one day I ate half of a croissant and four baby carrots, and I did not feel hungry. Whenever I would go out with friends, I would never be able to finish my meal or eat much of it at all. I never tried to be like this, it just happened when I returned to college in the fall. But because I never actively tried to fight it, I lost about 20 pounds due to not eating enough. I didn’t even realize that it was a problem until my friends brought it up to me. It was so obvious to everyone else, yet I couldn’t acknowledge that I was suffering from an eating disorder. People tend to normalize the struggles and hardships they go through, but that isn’t what is necessarily best for us. We have to pay attention to our bodies and their needs because even though eating disorders are treatable, they are difficult to admit to having and often hard to notice.

Since then, I have recovered from my eating disorder. I used to hate talking about it or even admitting that I had it, but then I realized how many people eating disorders actually affect. The National Eating Disorders Association states on their website that national surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. 80 percent of 10-year-old girls in America have already been on a diet. 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies and diet because of that. Diets easily lead to pathological dieting and the development of eating disorders. Eating disorders kill at least one person every hour. Dieting is often expressed as some desire to be healthy and take care of oneself; however, more often than not, this front disguises a deeper desire to be skinny and lose weight.

It isn’t easy to notice the effects of an eating disorder, but there are symptoms: skipping meals, frequent dieting, brittle nails, dry hair, dry skin, dizziness, mood swings, and feeling cold all the time. If you recognize these symptoms in someone you know, reach out. Ask them if they are okay and push them a little, because it’s hard to admit to yourself that you may be suffering from an eating disorder without the help of others. And if you yourself think that you are suffering from an eating disorder, reach out to a close friend or family member and ask for help. If you are too afraid to ask someone you know for help, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at (800) 931- 2237.

Eating disorders are much more common than we realize. The stigma around them has to be removed. Even though society is slowly but surely becoming more comfortable talking about mental illness, eating disorders seem to be ignored, but let’s talk about it.

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