Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate.
I had planned on writing a blog on a completely different topic this week, but then.....this week happened. The death of George Floyd has rocked our country to it’s core. Protests, both peaceful and destructive. Pain, racism, arguing, learning, listening, educating, discussion, opinions. It’s all been very overwhelming and emotionally draining if I’m to be honest. Especially on the heals of a pandemic that is still going on!? I can’t even process it all and I have a feeling a lot of people reading this are in the same boat. However, it’s something I can’t ignore and also something I wasn’t sure how to talk about in a blog about eating disorders and my recovery. I thought about not blogging. But that didn’t seem right. I thought about just writing about how it’s hot as hades out and the circumference of my arms is really getting to me. But that seemed kind of superficial compared to the things going on. I thought about giving my opinion on everything and sharing how Black Lives MATTER and we need to GET. IT. TOGETHER, but who wants to read my opinion and frankly, I fear I would mess it up!
So....I thought to myself, how does everything that is going on right now relate to eating disorders? How does racism, bias, discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes show themselves in eating disorders? One of the things that keeps creeping back into my mind is, eating disorders do not discriminate like we do. It doesn’t look at a black person and say, nope, not qualified. It doesn’t look at a white man in his 50s and say, too old and white! It’s clear that our country still has a discrimination and racism problem, but I can tell you eating disorders don’t. They don’t care about what race, gender, age, religion, size or color you are, period.
I’m saying this because there is still this REALLY dumb stereotype out there that eating disorders are for rich, white, sixteen year old girls.
Maybe you are a person struggling with an eating disorder but won’t get support, tell people, seek help or even believe you have a problem because you don’t fulfill the stereotype of having an ED. Maybe you are a person that has an inherent prejudice that you aren’t aware of that men can’t suffer from anorexia and athletes who are fit couldn’t possibly be binge eaters. Maybe because of your bias you think that an overweight person can't be starving and they must just pound chips all day or an underweight person can't be dealing with extreme binging and purging.
I’m here to tell you that eating disorders effect every race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, culture, size, age...you get the idea).
NEDA’s (National Eating Disorder Awareness) website has a page full of statistics and research about eating disorders. You can find it HERE.
The diversity and numbers throughout these statistics is alarming and far from the bias that E.D.’s only effect the young, white and privileged. Here are a few...
Males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa, and they are at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later since many people assume males don’t have eating disorders.
Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports that tend to emphasize diet, appearance, size and weight. In weight-class sports (wrestling, rowing, horse racing) and aesthetic sports (bodybuilding, gymnastics, swimming, diving) about 33% of male athletes are affected. In female athletes in weight class and aesthetic sports, disordered eating occurs at estimates of up to 62%.
In one study of ultra-Orthodox and Syrian Jewish communities in Brooklyn, 1 out of 19 girls was diagnosed with an eating disorder, which is a rate about 50 percent higher than the general U.S. population (Sacker, 1996).
In one study, gay and bisexual boys reported being significantly more likely to have fasted, vomited, or taken laxatives or diet pills to control their weight in the last 30 days. Gay males were 7 times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual males.
From 1999 to 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders increased for all age groups, but hospitalizations for patients aged 45-65 increased the most, by 88 percent. In 2009, people over the age of 45 accounted for 25% of eating disorder-related hospitalizations.
Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction.
Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as binging and purging.
These were just a FEW examples of stats you will find from the NEDA website when it comes to who is effected by E.D's. If it is effecting so many diverse groups of people, why are we still stuck in the dark ages of believing its only a young white rich girl problem?
I’ve been in a bunch of E.D. support groups since entering treatment. I remember when I went to my first one I thought for sure I would be the oldest woman there and it would be so embarrassing. Guess what? I was the YOUNGEST! (I’m in my 30s!) The support group was extremely diverse, and our eating disorders were equally diverse ranging from anorexia to orthorexia, bulimia to binge eating. All of us were very different and came from very different backgrounds, AND all of us were struggling with being consumed by an eating disorder.
I will say this, while it's very clear that eating disorders effect every group of people, I question why I'm still not seeing it everywhere? Do we not think older people, black people, asian people suffer from eating disorders? If black teenage girls are 50% more likely than white teenagers to binge and purge and males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia, then why wasn't the waiting room of my recovery center more diverse? Why are all characters in movies with eating disorders skinny white girls? I don't have all the answers, but my guess is it is because of resources, money, and the bias of it all.
Look, I have no idea how this blog will hit. Maybe I’m way off on what I decided to share this week with everything that is going on. I'm not sure if what I was trying to say even came across. Please give me grace if I missed the mark. All the thoughts and emotions I'm having are kind of overwhelming! My hope is that while everyone is learning and educating themselves on how to be better humans and care for our black community that is suffering right now, we also must consider that they suffer with many of the same things we do, eating disorders included. They also deserve the resources and help in those areas just like we do. Let’s stop thinking ED’s are rich white girl problems, they are not. They effect every age, race, color, sex, orientation, religion etc. and that is something that we need to step up and care about as we learn and try to move past biases that have been in place FAR too long.
- Sara -