Eating disorders tend to be very stigmatized by the media and are usually mentioned in conjunction with celebrities who have lost a tiny bit of weight and are suddenly classed as ‘anorexic’. There are many stigmas about eating disorders and I decided to write this blog to highlight just a few. I’m not a medical professional so I am writing in a specifically non-medical capacity. I am however a recovering anorexic so I have pulled together the experiences I’ve had myself and those of other people I have spoken to. You can read about my struggle and recovery with anorexia on my own blog – www.chaoticcatharsis.com if you wish.
Now, onto stigmas!
People with eating disorders are all skinny? (No!)
While the stereotypical image of an anorexic person is the emaciated photos designed to shock and scare, it’s not the true picture and not all people who suffer from eating disorders have Anorexia Nervosa. This means that you could walk down the street and see a hundred different people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and not be able to tell who is suffering with an eating disorder.
Only young women get eating disorders? (No!)
Anyone can get an eating disorder at any time of their life – you can be a child, a teenager, an adult, an older person, pregnant, male, female, transgendered, straight, gay, lesbian, bi, asexual – eating disorders doesn’t discriminate against age, gender or sexuality. But the media and the sensationalized images that the general public get to see tend to focus on teenage girls. This is bad because it excludes a whole range of people and a whole range of problems. Eating disorders are not just an illness ‘for teenage girls’. They can affect anyone and everyone.
Anorexia is the only eating disorder (Nope!)
Anorexia is the most commonly talked about eating disorder and the one which faces a lot of stereotypes but in actual fact it only accounts for about 10% of diagnosed eating disorder sufferers. Bulimia is more common at around 40% but in reality half of all eating disorder sufferers have EDNOS or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specialized. EDNOS is when someone is suffering with eating but they don’t have all the characteristic symptoms of anorexia or bulimia to be diagnosed or they have symptoms which don’t fit into either category or into both.
Eating Disorder sufferers are attention-seeking and vain (NO!)
Eating disorders can often stem from low self-esteem and becoming focused on weight loss and food intake can be a way to deal with life’s bigger problems. Sufferers can often be the last person to realize they even have a problem – with parents, friends, partners, co-workers or teachers realizing (and worrying) long before.
When an eating disorder sufferer looks in the mirror they’re not looking to be vain, they’re analyzing themselves from different angles and telling themselves things that they believe are true, even though someone who is not suffering would tell them something completely different. (I’m deliberately being vague because I try and keep my writing from being triggering.) Sometimes they hide away in clothes and try and blend into the background, to keep the attention away from them and what they may or may not be eating or doing. In some ways this is the worst stigma because it causes people who aren’t aware of the complexity of the issue to just assume that someone is vain or attention-seeking.
Sometimes actions may come across that way, but chances are if they do, then maybe that person is hoping someone WILL see them and will try and help them.
Eating Disorders are Physical Illnesses (I can see why you’d think it, but no)
Eating Disorders are mental illnesses with physical symptoms. The illness doesn’t stem from a physical condition – you can’t treat the symptoms that you can see until the reasons for the disordered eating have been dealt with and understood, otherwise the treatment isn’t going to the root of the problem. It is often a form of control or release or something to focus on when life is bad and there are often other mental illnesses alongside like depression and anxiety.
‘You’re not really skinny anymore so you’re not ill anymore’ (Not the case)
As I mentioned before, being very slim is not the only indicator, but even that were a symptom, just because someone puts on weight doesn’t mean they’re suddenly ‘cured’ or ‘well’. With eating disorders being more of a mental illness, while someone may be fighting the physical side of things, the mental side with the disordered thoughts and view of themselves may still be causing them problems. The only way to know that a sufferer isn’t ill anymore is for them themselves to admit that they no longer feel controlled by their disorder. And that can often take time – so be patient with them.
To sum up…
These are only a few of the stigmas that surround eating disorders but hopefully my brief overview of the main ones will help to raise awareness and make at least one person stop and think before they say something that might not actually be true.
If you think that someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, please encourage them to see a doctor or to visit a website like www.b-eat.co.uk for advice and help, but try not to push them too hard – sometimes it takes a while for a person to admit they need help, but with love and support, they will hopefully get there.
Follow Katie on Twitter @Katiecatharsis