by: Joseph Jacob
With so many Americans struggling with eating disorders, it is important for us to explore and understand the social implications of the illnesses on the individual. Those facing an eating disorder are far more likely to feel ostracized, detached, and therefore, helpless. Thus, women, men, young-adults, and children, alike, often blame themselves and their “lack” of self-control for developing their conditions—whether that be bulimia, anorexia, binge eating or EDNOS (Griffiths). Moreover, a recent study discovered several common ideologies found among these individuals. For instance, they view their disorders as being trivial (Griffiths). As well, it was found that male bulimics view themselves as “less of a man” because of their eating disorder (Griffiths). With these sentiments, it becomes clear why as many as half of these individuals suffer from depression (“Eating Disorders Statistics”).
The misconception that eating disorders are trivial makes sufferers less likely to seek professional guidance, as they might believe that their condition is self-inflicted, thereby accentuating feelings of guilt and diminishing their self-image and self-worth. The complexity of the conditions grows when an individual with an eating disorder dissects the associated stigma of the illness. Like the sufferers, others may also have similar perceptions of eating disorders—that they are insignificant, self-inflicted, and feminine. However, such stereotypes and stigmas only serve to reinforce the unwarranted negativity associated with eating disorders—further undermining the individual’s self-perception.
No matter how well-intended, sometimes family and friends cannot empathize with what the individual is going through, due to either a lack of information or even misinformation. It can also be difficult for others to wrap their heads around the severity of eating disorders. Consequently, they disregard the illness as being a fad or a phase—which can be hazardous because the person with the eating disorder may, too, adopt these ideologies— starting a cycle in which these feelings are shared between both sufferers and his/her family and friends (“Get the Facts on Eating Disorders”).
As with all stereotypes and stigma, it is important for people to become informed about the deeper issue. As Hippocrates once said, “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has” (“Hippocrates Quote”). Thus, if we know someone struggling with an eating disorder, it is essential that we wait and recognize what they are going through before passing undeserved judgments. It’s unfair for us to make assumptions about an individual without hearing, first, about the hardships of their illness from their perspective. A more profound understanding of the individual, in addition to his or her eating disorder, can also make it easier for others to support them.
Finally, reading about the condition and researching the topic could broaden one’s understanding of eating disorders and perhaps even correct and enlighten one’s preconceived notions—fostering a better recognition of the adversities these individuals endure. For example, learning about the psychological and physiological causes of eating disorders clarifies the misconception that eating disorders are self-inflicted (“Eating Disorders”). Reading about the range of risks and complications of eating disorders makes it clear that they are far from trivial (“Eating Disorders”). As well, understanding that eating disorders are not exclusive to a particular demographic (gender, race, class, continent) is also important.
The complications of the disease itself is far reaching. Multiple organ failure, depression, and suicide are a few of the potential health risks of eating disorders (“Eating Disorders”). Stigma will often harm individuals further by making him or her feel even more removed and isolated in their struggle. As fellow human beings, it is important that we always put ourselves in each other’s shoes, so that we may better recognize the individual who suffers, before we understand their eating disorder.
"Eating Disorders." Complications. Mayo Clinic, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
“Eating Disorders Statistics.” ANAD. National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders, 2014. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.
“Get the Facts on Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders. NEDA, n.d. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.
Griffiths, Scott, Jonathan M. Mond, Stuart B. Murray, and Stephen Touyz. "The Prevalence and Adverse Associations of Stigmatization in People with Eating Disorders." Int J EatDisord. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
"Hippocrates Quote." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2014.