Body image issues and eating disorders are global problems. As long as we neglect talking about eating disorders, they will remain stigmatized and in the dark.
Fortunately, Feb. 26 through Mar. 4 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAwareness), which is hosted annually by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). According to the NEDA website, this week aims “to shine the spotlight on eating disorders and put life-saving resources into the hands of those in need."
Each year the NEDA picks a theme for the week, and this year's theme is “It’s Time to Talk About It.” The theme encourages discourse about eating disorders and destigmatization.
Education about mental illnesses is the only way to diminish shame and misconceptions – this is a matter that should not be taken lightly.
In the United States alone, more than 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder, and every 62 minutes a person dies from an eating disorder, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition.
Dr. Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president of ASU Health Services and ASU Counseling Services, said in an email that many people underestimate how widespread mental health issues are.
"This leads to people believing that if they are struggling, with an eating disorder for example, that they are weird or unlike many other people,” Krasnow said in an email. “This compounds the stigma, making it even less likely that someone will talk about their concerns or get help. And the negative cycle of isolation continues.”
Eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by extreme views about body image and food intake. Mental illnesses develop as a result of biological factors, psychological factors and environmental factors.
While eating disorders are mental illnesses, they also take physical tolls on the body. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration states that anorexia nervosa deprives the body of the nutrients vital to bodily functions through self-starvation and can cause anemia, intestinal problems and heart problems.
Bulimia, or binge-and-purge episodes, can cause dental enamel erosion, indigestion, stomach ulcers and other major effects on organs, according to Eating Disorder Victoria.
Despite these serious symptoms and the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric illnesses, they are rarely discussed.
Ruth Flucker, a clinical instructor for ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation and psychiatric nurse practitioner, said people need to feel comfortable talking about their mental illness, so they can get help and start the recovery process.
"We can all work together so the patient starts to feel better and is comfortable in coming for care without there being any unnecessary comments making them feel that they should be strong enough to get through this without help," Flucker said.
Discussions about eating disorders allow people to educate themselves and challenge existing stereotypes. While this may be uncomfortable, the well-being of an individual is more important than that joke you make about being anorexic or being critical of people’s body images.
On the ASU Downtown campus, Proud2Bme works to help students become aware of eating disorders and issues surrounding body image and food. This club and other mental illness clubs like Active Minds and Ask.Listen.Save create forums for the hard discussions that need to happen regarding mental health issues.
“This semester we have a social media campaign planned, the week of NEDAwareness we are going to have the #Proud2Bme5Day. So each day will be something different about why you are proud to be you, kind of taking the focus off your body, but also appreciating your body,” Madison Dehaven, an ASU junior studying nutrition and Proud2Bme president, said.
Other events taking place during this week range from cities lighting up blue and green – the NEDA colors – to spotlight eating disorders, to NEDA Walks and discussions. In Arizona, the Prescott City Hall and surrounding city will be lit for NEDAwareness week, and in Phoenix the AZ NEDA Walk will take place on March 5 at the Phoenix Zoo.
Eating disorders can be treated, but it is difficult for people struggling with these mental illnesses to move forward if they think their body image is being judged.
We should stop using negative connotations around eating disorders and stop body shaming others. Education is the key to diminishing the stigma, so take part in the education that NEDAwareness Week and carry body positivity into every other week of the year.
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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