My entire life, I have been a picky eater. I have given my mother so much grief because I don’t like eating red meat, fish, spicy foods and the list goes on. I am also naturally very thin and suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So many people look at me, add all these factors up in their heads and assume I must be anorexic.
But I’m not.
So many people fail to understand what eating disorders and behaviors related to them actually are. I cannot recall the number of times people have called me anorexic, or assumed that because of my thinness and picky-eating habits I starve myself on purpose. Every single time someone comments on my weight or my eating habits, it annoys me.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses that manifest in the form of atypical eating habits that can damage a person’s health and life. Some of the most common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.
While eating disorders are relatively common, college students seem to rarely talk about it. According to Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association, or MEDA, 40 percent of female college students have eating disorders and 91 percent of female college students have attempted to control their weight through dieting.
Because mental illnesses and eating disorders carry stigmas, college students do not discuss them often enough on campus. The lack of dialogue and proper education surrounding eating disorders leads to misconceptions that can be harmful to people who suffer from them.
“I think it can be dangerous for people who do have eating disorders," said Madison DeHaven, president of the upcoming Proud2Bme organization that focuses on eating disorders at ASU.
"If they don’t fit what the public perceives as an eating disorder, if they don’t look like they have one, people might not take them as seriously, or they might not recognize the signs,” DeHaven said.
Just as these stigmas and misunderstandings hurt those who live with eating disorders, it can also injure those who do not have eating disorders.
“…for people who don’t have eating disorders, but people make comments to them that they look like they do or that they do have one, that can be damaging just to their body image and self-perception,” DeHaven said.
As a recipient of these comments, it irks me that someone stereotypes me so quickly based on my body type. Even further, these comments also demean and trivialize this mental illness and the pain behind it.
Though eating disorders occur in both genders, people associate the idea more with women than with men. However, a study conducted by Professor Daniel Eisenberg of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan and others, showed that 3.6 percent of men on a large university campus screened positive for eating disorders.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding male eating disorders is that they are weak and “un-manly.” Many of the tests used to screen for eating disorders use language aimed at females, which can cause men to not receive proper diagnosis.
Diminishing stigmas starts with education.
“The most important thing is to educate people on what eating disorders are, their definitions, their signs and symptoms … just educating people that eating disorders look different on everyone and it’s a spectrum,” DeHaven said.
I try to contain my exasperation when people make false assumptions about me because of my diet and weight. Instead, I have learned to patiently correct their words and try to impart that just because I am skinny does not mean I am anorexic.
I may look thin, but I promise you, I can shove a full bag of Cheetos, several sleeves of Oreos and a passion tea lemonade down my throat in the early hours of morning with the best of them.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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