The Problem with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Trigger Warning: eating disorders and body image

This week was National Eating Disorder Awareness week. You may have seen people reposting NEDA tips and eating disorder (ED) stats, and, like me, you may have felt triggered by the overwhelming presence of ED content on your feed. 

The goal of NEDA week is to spread awareness about eating disorders, but the truth is—especially for young women—people are already painfully aware. 10-20% of college women report suffering from an eating disorder. These numbers skyrocket when looking at younger children. By 9 years old, 50% of girls have dieted or restricted their food intake in some way. 42% of 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner and 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. 

When I read these statistics, I cried. I thought of my younger self and how long I’ve spent battling my own self-image; feeling disgusted with myself for finishing a meal and breaking down when I can’t fit into clothes I bought years ago. Eating disorders are lonely diseases; so many young women are suffering from them silently, side by side, without ever seeking solidarity in each other. 

mental health signs on a fence Photo by Dan Meyers from Unsplash That’s why NEDA week aims to show people they’re not alone—that far more people than you’d like to imagine are going through the same thing as you. While I think this goal is achieved, in doing so, it can harm the people they’re trying to help. Flooding social media with content pertaining to EDs doesn’t aid people who are still in the depths of or recovering from their eating disorder. 

The problem isn’t just the high saturation of ED content, but the fact that EDs are competitive. You want to be the thinnest, the most disciplined, and the most anorexic. When people speak about their ED online, it can often trigger the competitive nature of others’ EDs. For example, I find the TikTok series titled “what I eat in a day” to be extremely harmful, especially when the person details their workout routine alongside. I’ve been in ED recovery for three years, but can still be thrown back into the depths of my disorder when I see that kind of content. I cannot help but compare myself to these people, and ask: do they eat better than I do? And by better, I mean less.

phone with tiktok application on phone Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

For many, EDs are a vicious cycle of restriction, recovery, and relapse. Everyone has different experiences with their ED and different triggers. It’s difficult to know whether what you’re saying is helpful or harmful. You want to acknowledge the pervasiveness of diet culture without contributing to it. That’s a fine line to walk. 

I won’t pretend to know the answers—there is likely no perfect way to talk about EDs without potentially triggering someone’s. But being aware of content that is often harmful, and making sure not to share it, is important. Equally important is when you do engage in difficult discussions around EDs and body image, be aware of your subconscious fatphobia and internalization of diet culture. 

Think before you speak, and work hard to not let your words impede your relationship with your own body or the relationships your loved ones have with theirs. 

Want to keep up with HCBU? Make sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, check out our Pinterest board, and read our latest Tweets!