Eating Disorders in the United States have reached epidemic proportions. It is estimated that between 8 and 10 million Americans have an eating disorder (10% are men). Other studies estimate that 10-15% of all Americans suffer from some type of serious eating disorder and 61% of American adults are either overweight or obese. Unfortunately, kids are not immune and 1 in 6 children are estimated to struggle with childhood and adolescent obesity. Considering the staggering nature of these statistics, I thought that I would share some of the things my clients wish that their loved ones, friends and acquaintances knew about eating disorders.
1. Don’t talk about overweight people as if they are disgusting or as if you feel sorry for them. I hear what you say and it makes me feel bad about myself. Even if I am not overweight, it makes me believe that being overweight is the worst thing a person can be. It makes me afraid of food – afraid of eating because if I gain weight I may become one of them – a “fat person.”
2. Don’t make fun of overweight people. This is really just fat-shamming and it does make me feel ashamed of myself! Somehow fat-shaming is a form of prejudice that is still tolerated in our society. Overweight individuals continue to be discriminated against at work, in their doctor’s offices and in the media. Take for example the recent Gilmore Girls revival – Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. The “Summer” episode begins with Rory and Lorelei lounging at the community pool. In this short scene they make jokes about overweight men as they walk by, with comments like “Belly Alert” to which Rory responds, “Holy Moly” and by nicknaming another man “Back Fat Pat.” Then, when Pat comes over to welcome Rory back to town, she accidentally calls him “Fat” instead of Pat. These jokes bantered about so freely make me believe that I must stay covered up. That my body really isn’t okay. That even when I don’t suspect it, people are making fun of me.
3. Don’t weigh me, measure me, or invade my body as if it is yours. This makes me feel like an object. It makes me feel like I have no control over me. It makes me feel worthless. It makes me angry and makes me want to defy you in whatever way I can. What I put in my mouth may be the only way I can take ownership of me.
4. Don’t remind me that being overweight is bad for my health and that you only care about my health. Believe me I know that it is bad for my health! We all know weight contributes to a myriad of health problems but I also know that weight has become more than a health issue, it is also a social problem. Plus-sized people are discriminated against, made fun of, bullied, and reviled by many. Your reminding me that overeating is bad for my health does not help. Believe me if I could change this I would. I have tried a countless number of diets. I have lost weight on some diets only to again regain the weight I lost. Believe me I am more worried about my health than you are. Your reminders do not help me lose weight; they just make me want to scream. They make me feel that you do not understand my struggle. They make me feel ashamed and make me want to eat in secret.
5. Don’t always comment on my body and how great I look when I am thin. This just reminds me that my only real value is being skinny. This also increases my shame and embarrassment should I gain weight again. It makes me want to isolate myself.
6. Don’t assume that I have an eating disorder or am unhealthy due to my weight. Eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder, and another category, which include atypical types of disordered eating. Not all people who are over or under the average weight for their height have an eating disorder. Although I may be bigger or smaller than others of a similar height, it does not mean that I have a disorder or am unhealthy. My health concerns are between my doctor and me. There is a new body positive movement called Healthy at Every Size (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-health-every-size). Your focus on my weight feels like my boundaries are being invaded.
7. Do notice and complement me on who I am. My character. My work. My loving heart. My empathy. My strength. Let me know that you see more than my physical appearance.
8. Do ask me about my feelings, and if I share them with you, please listen to what I say. Acknowledge that my feelings are my truth for me, even if you don’t agree. Eating disorders aren’t really about food. Eating disorders are about how I deal with my sadness, anger, pain and fears. Let me be real with you.
9. Do let yourself see and love the real me; the me that isn’t perfect; the me that is sometimes filled with rage and self-doubt.
10. Remember eating disorders aren’t really about what I eat, that is just my armor – my façade. My eating disorder is about what is eating me.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder remember there is hope!
If you have a friend or family member whom you suspect might have an eating disorder, it’s worth talking to a therapist to find out how you can best help them. Remember, the individual with an eating disorder is in a very lonely place and can use the support and love of friends and family. Have sensitivity to how they might feel. Don’t walk away and pretend that everything is okay. Learn more about how to be there for your loved one.
Feel free to me at 818-309-7780 and we can get started on this journey together.