Awareness, Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 02/25/2010

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

the eating disorder awareness week poster from 2004

the eating disorder awareness week poster from 2004

No, the title of this post is not the most uplifting thought in the world. But it’s an issue that’s plaguing my peers and isn’t going away any time soon. Scratch that, it’s not just an issue, or something that haunts insecure teenagers with nothing better to think about than themselves. Eating disorders are life threatening illnesses caused by dangerous pressures and behaviors that need to be addressed.

I see this every day at my school in a vast spectrum of ways. I saw it just the other day in the bathroom at school (such a cliche but shit seriously does go down in the bathroom…). This girl that I don’t know very well came up beside me at the mirror. She’s a talented athlete and somebody I considered, at least from a far, to be confident and sure of herself. “Oh my god, I look so fat today,” said this girl, probably around 5’6″ and 115 pounds. “You definitely don’t,” I assured her. She smiled, but she smiled in the same way that I smile when I feel fat and somebody assures me that I’m not. Yeah right, you think, so the fact that I wouldn’t look out of place in a maternity clothing store is all in my head? I don’t think so. I can’t even say why she felt this way, or how serious it was – but even in somebody I considered to be confident, the bad body image was there. And that is definitely not even on the bad end of cases I’ve seen.

We’ve all felt fat. I have definitely felt fat, but have never gotten to the place where I feel so desperate and overwhelmed that I’ve turned to an eating disorder. But the real problem is, on some level this is a universal experience.

I’ve decided to contribute to this week by raising awareness on this site. So many people don’t understand what having an eating disorder means or truly entails. Ignorance breads stigmas, stigmas don’t help anybody. So here is some information about eating disorders: (all information from the National Eating Disorders Association)

Terms and Definitions

Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Factors That Contribute to Eating Disorders

While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food. NEDA acknowledges there may be a difference of opinion among experts and the literature on this topic and we encourage readers to explore the topic further, using all means available to them. Such factors include psychological issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or loneliness; relationship issues such as a history of being teased, sexual abuse, or troubled personal relationships; social factors such as cultural pressures and norms, and even biological factors such as genetics and chemical imbalances (scientists are still researching these possibilities).

To learn more, click here.

Quick Facts

In the U.S. eating disorders are more common than Alzheimer’s disease (10 million people with eating disorders as compared to 4 million with Alzheimer’s). Yet funding for eating disorder research is approximately 75% less than that for Alzheimer’s.

The average direct medical costs for treating eating disorder patients in the United States alone is currently between $5-6 billion per year, where as the global cost of any psychotic medication is $7 billion per year.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest premature mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. The majority of deaths are due to physiological complications.

***

I know this issue is incredibly personal, but I find the best way to learn about something is to hear it through stories – first hand accounts and perspectives. If anybody is brave enough, I think it’d be great if we could share stories about this issue. I think talking about it is truly the best way to spread awareness.

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  • Melissa @ at 12:01 pm, February 25th, 2010

    I posted this on the Feministing community a while back. The writing is sloppy…I wrote it kind of stream-of-consciousness, and then when I went back to edit, I realized it was too triggering. But it gets the idea across, I think.

    http://community.feministing.com/2009/10/an-eating-disorder—-ten-year.html

  • Janey @ at 6:47 pm, February 25th, 2010

    I want to start of this reply by saying I think discussions with kids and teens about eating disorders are handled in entirely the wrong way. In sixth grade, a specialist came into our classroom to talk to the girls separately. She discussed everything from periods to marijuana to birth control to anorexia. Six months later, I watched my best friend’s bones begin to stick out of her skin.
    I was 12 when it happened, and we were both moving into a new environment. She had just experienced a death in the family and had been in bed as the result of an operation…people said that was all it was. I watched all my friends deny that she had any sort of problem, as she dropped pounds upon pounds, and began looking truly skeletal. 12 is a formative age. Some of us are turning into women, and some of us are waiting for the day we hit puberty. No matter where you fall, you feel uncomfortable. This seemed to be her way of coping.
    After a year, I began to feel entirely too alone. I could not deny that she had a serious problem. I probably should have confronted an adult about this. Instead, I removed myself from her life, which was probably the last thing she needed. However, she was on anti-depression medicine that made her act unrecognizably dazed and tired, and I could not find my friend in the mess she had become.
    Four years older, I am at a different school, watching a different friend starve herself. Whether she is thinner or more messed up than my best friend from middle school, I cannot say, because my perception of these things at nearly 17 is much different than it was back in 7th grade. I do know that this friend has been hospitalized many times, and I am once again watching her become a washed out version of her former self. This time, I am noticing nearly everyone separate themselves from the ghost she has become. I, myself, am barely holding onto her anymore.
    I guess the point of these stories is to examine the way eating disorders can affect an entire group of people. It would be a lie to say that my experiences with girls who have anorexia have not shaped my life at all. They have been very influential in the way I view myself and the people I ended up being friends with. The question I pose to the young feminist community is how can we cope together? How can we stand united? Or, is it better to cut ourselves loose when a problem like this enters our community?

  • Jordi @ at 12:05 am, February 26th, 2010

    There have been two times in the last 4 years where I have been unable to eat.
    The first time was when I was 13. I had given up food for a weekend as a fundraiser and lost 2kg which was a considerable amount as I’m so small to begin with. It took me another 2 months to be able to regain the weight because I wanted to throw up my food all the time. I told my best friend and she began spreading rumours about me saying that I had an eating disorder and looked disgusting. She would monitor what I ate and would force me to eat if she thought I hadn’t eaten anything. It got to the point where she would harrass me so much that I wanted to leave school. We are no longer close friends.
    The second time it happened was about a month ago. I don’t believe myself to be fat, in fact I love my body. the reason why I wasn’t eating was because I was so stressed and upset about things that were going on in my life that I was physically unable to eat. I would be hungry but as soon as I took the first bite I would feel sick and although I would finish, it took a lot of effort not to throw it all up again. This inability to eat made me angry and frustrated with my body and I was really worried about what would happen. It took me a while but I finally told friends about it: one said i should see someone, one said she’d been through it before and the other said that he was going through exactly the same thing.
    I’m ok now however it still shocks me to think that so many people are effected by eating disorders. I have seen friends strictly monitor what they eat and run around the school 5 times to burn off calories after eating a chocolate bar, a friend used to make herself throw up because she felt that her body was the only thing she could control in her life and the constant talk among young girls about how fat they are really gets to me.
    Everyone knows about eating disorders and the effects they have on people however no one is willing to deal with them appropriately. It saddens me to think that my former eating problems are so relevant to so many different people.

  • Sophie @ at 8:31 am, February 26th, 2010

    A lot of people accused me of being anorexic or bulimic in middle school. They said that it was impossible to be “that skinny” when the rest of them were gaining weight.
    Around that same time, my doctors began questioning me if I was suffering from an eating disorder. They said that I was underweight despite having a healthy BMI.
    We – not only us girls, but everyone – have to learn how to differentiate what eating disorders are and what high metabolism/being genetically skinny are. We automatically jump to eating disorders when we see a skinny girl with legs that seem a little too skinny. Truth is, a good deal of these girls have a high metabolism or other genetic factors that keep them skinny. They just can’t help being skinny.
    I still get asked by a handful of people if I’m anorexic or bulimic. Though I’ve gotten used to being asked this, it’s kind of sad to realize that people still jump to conclusions that everyone “too” skinny has an eating disorder.

  • JAG @ at 2:06 pm, March 5th, 2010

    @Melissa Thanks so much for sharing your story — I read it on Feministing community, actually, and meant to comment on it there. I, too hit the worst of my own experience with anorexia in the spring of 1999, at the age of 16. It was striking for me, too, to reflect that that was 10 years ago. I was lucky though — blessed, really — to have a mother who, despite her own struggles with her weight, didn’t give me that “Do you really want seconds?” stuff.

    It’s easier for me. But not easy enough. In _Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters_, Courtney Martin talks about counting up the minutes she spends each day thinking about food, weight, and exercise. As soon as I read it, I knew exactly what she meant — and so, I imagine, do the vast majority of girls and women. It’s a whole lot of time. What other productive, meaningful things could I be doing with that time?

  • stellaluna @ at 1:17 am, August 13th, 2010

    Most bulimics are actually normal to overweight. There is a strange stigma that bulimics are skinny little things who puke after each meal–wrong. Binge and purge is the cycle.

    I apologize if this is at all triggering to anyone, but I thought I’d share since you asked. How it usually went (I am in recovery now) was that I would not eat all day, and then come home from school to binge & purge. This cycle was painful and disgusting. I would constantly have negative thoughts and eating would send me into a panic.

    In recovering, I actually lost weight, because I am not ingesting thousands of calories at a time (some people can only purge 50-75% of calories binged). Now, I still have tough days, where I can only eat a little. Other days are really tough though, because if I eat more than I feel normal, I have to make the decision: to purge, or not to purge.

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