BY GABRIELLE GAYLE
Trigger Warning: This may be a sensitive topic for those who struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.
Every year, students sit down in health class to not only learn about hygiene and first aid but also about nutrition. As teachers go on about calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates and everything that should go into your body, the conversation of eating disorders is almost always brought up.
Although many know the very basics of eating disorders, many do not understand the broader term of disordered eating, seeing it as simply something they would want to avoid. While discussing disordered eating, it is important to be ready to listen in order to truly learn more and better help our friends and family who struggle with it.
It is important to remember that disordered eating is not a choice, and actually has a science behind it. While it is not completely clear whether disordered eating is caused by difficulties with emotion and behavior regulation or negative psychological outcomes (Masuda), there is no doubt that they are not a choice—which we must remember when trying to help those who struggle with it. Disordered eating describes eating behaviors that are irregular, which can include eating disorders, and can be caused by a variety of factors including biological, social, psychological, genetic and behavioral. They may run in the family which is not important in treating disordered eating but also important to know to be properly educated about the topic. Eating disorders, specifically, can be diagnosed using criteria from the American Psychiatric Association (APA),while disordered eating cannot.(Anderson) Some symptoms of disordered eating are:
Eating disorders (Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder, etc.) affect at least 9% of the population. (Eating Disorder Statistics) They are also very extreme and can cause severe physical damage which include:
Although some may know the harmful effects of eating disorders and disordered eating in general, . It is important that the right treatment plan is chosen. Resources like registered dietitians are vital,(Anderson) however many things may only work for certain people, including medication, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling, and psychotherapy.4 While it is important to know what you should be eating, the road to recovery, and accepting help we also must remember that recovery works differently for everyone and therefore people may not benefit from the same method as someone else. There are also many ways to help your friend or family member through their recovery. With this, however, it is important to not argue or guilt-trip, as that is not as helpful as it may seem. Honestly expressing your concern may help, as well as recognizing how difficult and frightening this must be for them .(How Family and Friends can Help) Another way to help is eating together and trying to make the situation feel as normal as possible.
Not only do they have many effects that affect different aspects of the body but they also affect BIPOC differently increasing their damage. BIPOC are actually less likely to be diagnosed with or receive treatment for disordered eating, because they are often not asked by doctors about whether they have any eating disorder symptoms. Not everyone who has an eating disorder can get diagnosed, and although many more suffer from disordered eating rather than an eating disorder, you should not invalidate one’s struggles with eating due to the fact they are not diagnosed with an eating disorder and instead encourage them to go onto a better path rather than dismissing them. Eating disorders also do not affect every community equally: BIPOC, people with disabilities, gay and bisexual men, veterans, and trans people are all more likely to have eating disorders than cis straight civilians .
While discussing disordered eating and helping your friends, it is important to approach the topic carefully and mindfully. Disordered eating is not a choice, and in order to truly help someone, you must make them feel comfortable without pressuring or belittling their struggles. Instead, it is crucial to be understanding and patient as that is what we would want if we were facing a similar or any problem in general and came to a friend about it. Remember to create a safe environment and most importantly remember the ultimate goal is to make the person who is coming to you feel comfortable!
“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml.
“Eating Disorder Statistics. General & Diversity Stats: ANAD.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 16 Nov. 2020, anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.
How Family and Friends Can Help.” UCSF Eating Disorders Program,
Masuda, Akihiko et al. “Mindfulness Moderates the Relationship Between Disordered Eating Cognitions and Disordered Eating Behaviors in a Non-Clinical College Sample.” Journal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment vol. 34,1 (2012): 107-115. doi:10.1007/s10862-011-9252-7
Anderson, Marci. “What Is Disordered Eating?” EatRight, 26 Oct. 2018, www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/what-is-disordered-eating.