By Patricia Colli, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Eating disorders are a mental health issue with physical manifestations – and one that has been stigmatized and shamed, swept under the carpet. It’s the illness that most families don’t want to acknowledge or discuss, it’s hidden from friends and loved ones, and is the thing that many people cannot bring themselves to admit.
This often misunderstood guilt and shame causes many people to suffer in silence from the underlying causes of their eating disorder. Unworthiness, self-criticism, perfectionism, feelings of being unlovable and not ever being “enough” – those are the things that truly need healing and are often neglected because these disorders and their root causes are not getting enough recognition. The public is not being educated and it is hurting us all.
When I started BeUtiful Magazine, it sprouted from my own history with disordered eating and exercise addiction. I was a teenager stuck in the cycle of starving during the entire school day and then bingeing as soon as I got home, only to follow it up with at least two hours of exercise before my full load of schoolwork. My parents knew what I was doing, but they didn’t know what it meant, why I was doing it or how dangerous this daily routine really was for me.
Most parents don’t know what eating disorders look like, what the signs are, what an eating disorder really is. They don’t know how it got there, and most of all, they don’t know how they can help.
Today there is more awareness, but our success should only encourage us to work harder to put an end to fat-shaming, bullying, body-policing and the unhealthy images and messages that create an environment for eating disorders to thrive – and we can do this by creating awareness through events like World Eating Disorder Action Day.
Many people believe that the binge and purge cycle is somewhat normal because of the lack of education surrounding Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Many people believe they must accept this way of life. Many are living in shame and cannot ask for help because they don’t know where to go. The BED community and its survivors deserve to have safe spaces – just like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia survivors – where they can be treated with respect and get the support they need. Until recently, there was nowhere to turn to.
Making a global day that is dedicated to spreading awareness allows survivors to share their stories and connect with others like them. Also crucial to any movement is the involvement of families and friends. Eating disorders affect 70 million people globally – people of all ages, sizes, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds – but are seldom spoken about. It’s time we changed this and removed the stigma and silence. It is only by speaking up that we realize just how similar we all are and how we can better support each other when we struggle. There is no reason why eating disorders – which happened to have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness – should be kept in the dark and cloaked in shame.
Binge Eating Disorder is one of the most stigmatized and least recognized eating disorders – and it’s important that we create events aimed around the education and awareness for it. After all, it took until 2013 for the DSM-5 to even include it amongst more well-known disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia, even though it is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. In America alone, over two million people suffer from BED, and many of have been forced to go without diagnosis or treatment until more recently. Events like World Eating Disorder Action Day have the potential to bring disorders like BED to the forefront of health issues and fight stigma.
Survivors and their allies deserve a day dedicated to dispelling the myths and stereotypes associated with eating disorders. Eating disorders do not have a certain “look” or “type” of person that suffers from them. We live in such an image-obsessed, perfectionist culture, and eating disorders can happen to anyone. More and more, we’re seeing that young children are starting to diet earlier as well as become self-conscious and uncomfortable with their bodies. Now, toddlers are trying unhealthy methods to control their weight. Unrealistic beauty standards portrayed by the media don’t help. This is where the education of families, teachers, professionals and their peers are crucial. When we change the culture and move toward education instead of sweeping a very dangerous, common disorder under the rug, we can change the future of the generations to come.
World Eating Disorder Action Day isn’t just about the survivors right now. It’s about creating a more compassionate, supportive and understanding world for future generations.
Patricia Colli is the creator/editor of an body-positive digital magazine and site called BeUtiful. BeUtiful focuses on empowering women and teaching them to love and accept their bodies (and themselves) by showing them that diversity and individuality is beautiful. While the main focus is on body image, the magazine frequently covers topics related to feminism, sexism, racism, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, mental illness and health. The mission for BeUtiful is to create healthy media that builds women up instead of tearing them down, and to address important cultural issues in a way that promotes awareness and equality.
Magazine URL: www.beutifulmagazine.com/magazine
Online Support Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1648098582068370/
Join Patricia in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.