Stomping the Stigma on Eating Disorders (ED’s)

It's most likely that at one point in your life, you or a loved one has struggled with their relationship with food. Disordered eating is a prominent, yet stigmatized issue in our society today. The three eating disorders that are commonly diagnosed are bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder (BED). Unrealistic ideals given to us by social media has played a major role in a lot of issues with dysmorphia in the population. An eating disorder can happen to anyone regardless of their gender, race, age, or size.

There are many other disorders that can stem from bulimia, anorexia, and BED, but these are just the most commonly diagnosed. Bulimia involves a vicious cycle of binging and purging. This can include laxatives, over exercising, or vomiting after a large caloric consumption. Symptoms can be a swollen neck, wearing down of tooth enamel, or irritation in the digestive system. BED is a little different in the sense that there is a large caloric consumption, but no purging. Both of these disorders involve much guilt after eating. Anorexia nervosa involves very limited food intake due to the fear of gaining fat. Some of these symptoms include osteoporosis, anemia, drop in blood pressure, and drop of internal body temperature. Regardless of which disorder someone might have, each need to be taken very seriously with professional help and support.

Many misconceptions about eating disorders stem from media and the stereotypes that follow. These stereotypes are commonly young white, rich females with their eating disorders caused by strong negative environmental factors. The matter of fact is that the demographics of people with eating disorders spread over every spectrum. Twenty million women and ten million men struggle with eating disorders every year. Only about five to ten percent of men actually seek out help and treatment. While there still are less men that struggle with body image issues, it is still a third of the eating disorder population. A lot of men might feel uncomfortable sharing their emotions about their body because it is stigmatized that womanly commonly do that. Many athletes struggle with eating disorders as well, due to highly controlled lifestyles and goals dependencies of their bodies ability. Keeping an open and supportive environment, early detection, and seeking help can make that individuals recovery much better.

Another large misconception of eating disorders is that it is due to “bad parenting.” According to NEDA, this is a myth because there are many factors that contribute to eating disorders. While biology and genetics are major factors, it does not determine the child’s destiny. Emotional well being of a child is very important in ensuring that the child has a less chance of suffering from an eating disorder. Creating a healthy and positive environment about food, nutrition, and body image will help the child grow into a confident and self-loving adult.

As a Dietetics student at Iowa State University, my career goal is to do nutritional counseling for people who struggle with disordered eating. Throughout my college and high school career, I saw a lot of people my age, have their whole daily life be consumed by thoughts about food. It hurts to see people you love be obsessed about their external image and not get to carry out normal life functions because they are too occupied with what they are going to do about food. Statistics show that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any psychiatric disorder. The large stigma on eating disorders prevent a lot of the help that people should be getting, considering how serious of an issue this is.

Food and weight management can be a touchy and triggering subject for many people, even if they do not show how it affects them. Even the smallest change of wording can change the thought process of a struggling individual. Labeling foods as “bad” or “unhealthy” can make an individual feel a lot of anxiety. Many people that struggle with eating disorders practice intuitive and joyful eating. This prevents that anxiety by eating what makes them happy emotionally, while also feeling satisfied. This turns that person from focusing so much on the external factor of losing weight to connecting with their internal functions and satisfactions to regulate their metabolism once again.

If you or someone you know suspect an eating disorder or any struggles with food, there is help. National Eating Disorder Association has a free screening tool and a confidential hotline. Registered Dietitians also specialize in treating these issues. Make this world a better place by not being a bystander with the issue. Think of the little things you can do such as changing the attitude of a conversation, or just being available for a loved one going through some struggles with dysmorphia. September 28th, 2019, NEDA is hosting the 2nd annual walk in Des Moines where participants donate, share stories, and walk to show their support for recovery of eating disorders. There is a link below to join the walk or simply donate some money to this organization that helps so many people daily. Promote confidence and self love in your community, everyone is deserving of that.


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