February 26th through March 3rd was National Eating Disorders Awareness week. This year’s theme is “Let’s Get Real.” The National Eating Disorders Association’s goals are to “expand the conversation and highlight stories we don’t often hear…because of stigma and old stereotypes, many people don’t get the support they deserve.” Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association states, “people of all ages, genders, sizes, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses struggle with eating disorders. The myths about eating disorders are really a barrier for people reaching out for help.”
Throughout this year, Hollywood has released a few films focused around mental health and eating disorders. Some examples include To the Bone and Freed, which both aired in July of 2018. The main issue with these films, though, is that the sufferer is always a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman.
In reality, 10 million American men also suffer from eating disorders, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, in the past year, transgender college students are among the most likely group of students in the U.S. to report suffering from an eating disorder. Many factors, such as fear of rejection by friends and family, negative beliefs about oneself due to sexual orientation and discrimination can lead to the LGBTQ population to being more susceptible to eating disorders than their straight, cisgender peers.
According to the NEDA, black and Hispanic teenagers were more likely to suffer from Bulimia nervosa than non-whites, yet minority groups are less likely to be asked about eating disorder symptoms by their doctor and are less likely to receive treatment. In fact, when presented with identical case studies of white, Hispanic and Black Women regarding disordered eating symptoms, 44% of doctors considered the white woman’s eating habits problematic, while only 41% and 17% of doctors considered the Hispanic and black subjects’ patterns problematic.
Many people assume that eating disorders are for insecure, hormonal teenagers, but the NEDA writes that many mid-life events, such as pregnancy, divorce, death of a loved one, empty nesting and menopause can trigger disordered eating. These individuals are often less likely to seek treatment due their shame of having a “teenager’s problem,” or their other time-consuming responsibilities, such as having a job or children.
Additionally, although it is not often portrayed in media, athletes are much more susceptible to eating disorders than the rest of the population. A study found that one in every four female Division II athletes has disordered eating, and 91% of college athletic trainers working with female athletes reported dealing with a patient with an eating disorder. Athletes often develop eating disorders in attempt to boost their performance. Such behaviors are especially common in sports that emphasize aesthetics, such as gymnastics and figure skating.
Clearly, eating disorders can affect anyone. Eating disorders may include, but are not limited to, Anorexia nervosa (restricted eating) and Bulimia nervosa (binging and purging).
Here are some other eating disorders, which are less talked about. Binge eating disorder is another life-threatening disordered eating pattern where victims often have episodes of uncontrollable, rapid eating, which is not necessarily associated with purging. Additionally, Orthorexia is a compulsive, dangerous obsession with eating healthy, often resulting in cutting out food groups, body image concerns and showing high levels of distress when “safe” food isn’t available. Compulsive exercise is a disorder where sufferers exercise excessively and often neglect other parts of their life. This can cause health issues such as bone density loss, menstrual cycle irregularities, and overuse injuries. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is a diagnosis for “individuals who did not meet strict diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, or bulimia nervosa, but still had a significant eating disorder,” according to the NEDA.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder, meaning the disease has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. There are millions of undiagnosed individuals who suffer in silence every day. With a week dedicated to eating disorder awareness, the NEDA hopes to encourage people of all backgrounds to know the signs and symptoms, know that they are not alone, and most importantly, know that there are ample resources for treatment.
If you or a loved one are looking for help, the NEDA Hotline (800) 931-2237 is available Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM ET and Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET. For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to connect to a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line.