Last week was dedicated to National Eating Disorder Awareness, and following this event I would like to say that just because the week is over does not mean that we should brush this topic under the rug until next February. The things that you take away from one week dedicated to awareness should be practiced in your everyday life. You never know when you, a close friend, family member or even a stranger in one of your classes could experience symptoms of an eating disorder, and the more you know, the more you can help.
If you weren’t already aware there is a fabulous website dedicated to this week of awareness, called nedawareness.org. Not only is there information all over the site, but there is a specific page with information on how and where to get help. This year to spread awareness, they focused on the theme, “I had no idea.” It is one of the sad truths of this world – there are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders. Hopefully, this clears a few of them up, and sheds light on just how important it is to address these kinds of issues.
Honestly, I didn’t have a very clear idea of what an eating disorder was or how it developed before I did some research. I read a book in high school about a 16-year-old girl with anorexia, and although her character was fictional, her situation is no fantasy. This stuff really happens to people. In fact, according to the website I mentioned above, 30 million people will experience symptoms of an eating disorder at some point in their lives. What surprised me the most, however, was that not all 30 million of them are teenage girls; they vary in age, gender, race, religion, you name it! This disorder does not discriminate.
Eating disorders can develop in the early, adolescent stages of someone’s life. Bullying can provoke issues with body image, and so can exposure to the media and its portrayal of an “ideal body”. These photos are almost always filtered and photoshopped, and hardly ever provide a realistic sense of health and beauty. I will save you a lot of ranting about how I think this should change, and instead introduce to you the Aerie All Natural Campaign.
This campaign may be a small step, but it is definitely going in the right direction. Now, I realize this doesn’t exactly apply to males… But that leads me to my next point. Men experience these struggles too. 10 million of them will acquire an eating disorder in their lifetime, and because of gender stereotypes and cultural bias, most of them will not seek help or even address their disorder.
Athletes are also often affected by eating disorders, as they strive to achieve the ultimate physique for themselves, their teammates and their sport. Extreme dieting and excessive exercise can put their health and their performance at risk and do damage rather than improve an athlete’s fitness and health. One-third of Division I female athletes in the NCAA have reported symptoms, and in sports such as weightlifting, bodybuilding and gymnastics, 62% of females and 33% of males are affected.
If you haven’t already gotten the point, these things are serious. They affect more people than you probably expected, so it’s important to remember that this is a topic that should never be hushed, pushed aside or avoided. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone who you think might be struggling and provide them with resources to help themselves. This applies to other struggles as well, such as mental health and other chronic illnesses. Communication may not always be the easiest, but it is the best way to let someone know you care about them. You could be the difference between an unhappy and self-destructive lifestyle and a confident, happy and healthy one.