National Eating Disorders Association
Blog

Remove the Stigma and Welcome the Voices of Those Who Are Struggling

Alex Kroudis, Communications Intern

World Eating Disorders Action Day 2018 is Saturday, June 2nd and it’s time for us to start talking about stigma in hopes of helping individuals who are struggling to feel brave enough to speak out.

An eating disorder is difficult enough to battle on its own, and the stigma associated with them makes the journey to becoming a warrior that much harder. The stigma that accompanies eating disorders strips an individual of their quality of life and causes them to have low self esteem resulting in more isolation. You can think of a stigma as a wall between the individual and the help that they need.

This wall (Stigma) can lead to a cycle of low self esteem and additional insecurities which could potentially lead to isolation, preventing someone from seeking proper support and help.

This wall causes someone who struggles with an eating disorder to be fearful of negative perception by family and loved ones as well as embarrassment about their behaviors regarding the disorder. The wall convinces the individual to feel that once they disclose their struggles that they will be minimized by others and misunderstood. Stigma makes it easier for self blame because of the negative stereotypes and the popular beliefs that eating disorders are self inflicted.

“Just eat” is a common phrase surrounding the stigma, proving the lack of knowledge regarding eating disorders in the general public. The blame is often times put on the patient and recovery is reduced to being as simple as just eating.

Eating disorders are also reduced to the super thin body type that most people believe equate to the mental illness. People of all sizes may be struggling with an eating disorder and this particular mental illness is often times not recognizable just by looking at someone. It is easy for someone to feel pressured to succumb to the appearance-ideal when in reality, that ideal is not attainable for the majority of people.

What most people don’t realize is that the stigma disguises the fact that eating disorders do not discriminate and that they can cause anyone to try and change themselves to match the unrealistic western cultures appearance ideal. The appearance ideal is not the same as the healthy ideal. The goal of the appearance ideal is to attain thinness that is neither realistic nor healthy.

So, exactly how detrimental is the stigma? Weight stigma poses a significant threat to psychological and physical health. It has been documented as a significant risk factor for depression, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. There is still a commonly held view that an eating disorder is a lifestyle choice and that recovery means dropping some negative behavior. Research indicates that current access to treatment for eating disorders is alarmingly low, with only 22% sufferers receiving specialist treatment for their eating disorder.

Eating disorders are thought to only affect young affluent white women but that is far from the truth. Eating disorders are just as prevalent in lesbian and bisexual woman as they are in heterosexual women and 15% of gay or bisexual men have had an eating disorder at some point in their life.  Eating disorders go beyond just sexuality, age, and gender and affect people of all races, ethnicities and social status.

Eating disorder are not a ‘lifestyle choice,’ they are mental health disorders with socio-biological influences. Many people often say that they could never have an eating disorder because they are not that ‘self controlled.’ An eating disorder is anything but control, it CONTROLS the person. People struggling often times fear disclosing the fact that they have an eating disorder, especially those with anorexia, because society praises thinnes.

How YOU can stomp out stigma and how we can come together to break down the wall bringing a world without eating disorders one step closer?

We as individuals all have the power to spread awareness and end the stigma. Little by little, as we do so, more people who are struggling will feel confident in seeking help. It is so important that we come together to build a strong community to bring an awareness of how necessary it is for someone struggling to receive proper support and treatment. We must tear down the pressures of society on an ideal body shape and remind the uneducated that an eating disorder does not have a fixed gender, ethnicity, or sexuality.

Weaken the stigma and strengthen the voices of marginalized communities and those who self disgust because of the humiliation of having an eating disorder. Let’s break down the silent walls and allow those to share their experiences with eating disorders in hopes of spreading the courage to those who fear speaking out. With your help, we can bring awareness to the fact that ED’s are a mental illness and not a choice. By removing the stigma, we can save lives.