Author’s note: This article discusses disordered eating.
Thirty million people struggle with an eating disorder in the United States. That’s nearly 10% of our population. Almost 50% of those people also “meet the criteria” of depression, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Subsequently, eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
People with eating disorders rarely seek help. Only one in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment for their issues, and often, checking into a specialized facility is done involuntarily.
It’s undeniable that eating disorders are a huge problem.
Yet somehow, it feels like the facts aren’t enough to decrease the stigma surrounding eating disorders. Despite their prevalence—30 million people!—eating disorders tend to be talked about in hushed tones and labeled taboo.
If our society has any hope of decreasing these numbers, the first step will be to eliminate misinformed and judgmental misconceptions that so often align themselves with disordered eating.
Here are five eating disorder taboos we need to eradicate.
1. Eating Disorders Only Affect Adolescents.
While the amount of teens suffering from eating disorders is undoubtedly high, the numbers seldom just drop at the 20-year-old marker. About 95% of people with eating disorders are between 12 and 26. We need to stop thinking of eating disorders as solely a high school problem because the statistics show they are also rampant in the college demographic and beyond.
2. Only Women Can Suffer From Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge-Eating.
Eating disorders are often mistaken as a female issue, but according to ANAD, it is estimated that 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. Not only are men affected by eating disorders but they are also less likely to seek treatment because of the female stigma attached.
3. Eating Disorders Are Solely a White Person’s Problem
According to a recent study conducted amongst middle school girls, Latina and Asian females felt “more body dissatisfaction” than their White peers. It is also reported that while Asian, Black, Latina, and White adolescents desire or attempt to “lose weight at similar rates,” 48.1% of Native American adolescents are trying to lose weight, proving eating disorders don’t discriminate.
4. To Have an Eating Disorder, a Person Needs to Weigh X Amount
You’ve probably heard it before. “She has an eating disorder? But she’s not even that skinny.” News flash: A person doesn’t have to be visibly emaciated to suffer from disordered eating.
Sure, one of the criteria of anorexia is having a BMI less than 18, but there is no magical number on the scale that dictates whether or not a person is suffering. If someone is restricting, bingeing, or purging, then they have some form of disordered eating and need treatment, regardless of how much they weigh.
5. Once “Overcome,” Eating Disorders Simply “Go Away”
It’s like Demi Lovato once said, “I can’t tell you I haven’t thrown up or cut myself since [leaving] rehab.” No, she works through her demons every day.
Oftentimes, people think eating disorders are like the flu or a common cold: You can “hit rock bottom” and then “get over it.” Or you can get professional treatment for an eating disorder, then never deal with it again. But people with eating disorders relapse after leaving treatment all the time. According to WebMD, one study found that “within two years of hospital discharge, 35% of…women had relapsed into anorexia.”
Changing the conversation around eating disorders starts with each other us. What other misinformation surrounding disordered eating do you hope to eradicate? Sound off in the comments below.