This year, February 25 – March 3 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a week dedicated to educating the public about eating disorders and connecting people to treatment and support. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) selected numerous businesses and organizations as collaborators during this week, and I am honored that Empowered Mathematics, LLC is among the ones chosen to help raise awareness. Additionally, I have designated NEDA as the charity towards which to donate 5% of profits during March 2019.
There are various social, psychological, genetic, and biological factors that can influence and maintain an eating disorder. All of these types of factors are complex and multifaceted, but social factors are generally the easiest to tackle from the standpoint of cultivating positive change through educating the public. Social factors can exist in the form of stereotypes associated with eating disorders, leading to misinformation about who may or may not be at risk. Diet culture and weight stigma are also examples of social factors.
NEDA aims to change the dialogue around eating disorders to include people of every size, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, race, ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic status. There is a common misconception that only young white women are affected by eating disorders. However, there are many other demographics that are commonly affected but not widely included in the realm of eating disorders. These groups include:
Representation of various demographics in research, statistics, images, and stories allows for people to see their experiences reflected. If someone does not feel like they fit the stereotype, they may not believe that it is possible for them to experience an eating disorder. Eliminating the stigma removes obstructions to obtaining diagnoses, treatment, and recovery.
There is also the issue that a person may not feel that their condition is “bad enough” to seek treatment. This can be detrimental because it inhibits people from getting proper help. For instance, it is widely believed that a person must experience a drastic change in weight in order to have an eating disorder. This is not always the case, considering that eating disorders are first and foremost mental health disorders – just with the capacity and high likelihood of leading to physical changes and conditions. Furthermore, there are various physical symptoms that are not weight-related. People should not be overlooked just because they don’t fit a certain size description, nor should people have to wait until physical symptoms appear before seeking treatment. NEDA provides a list of warning signs and symptoms that include behavioral, emotional and physical symptoms. NEDA also offers an eating disorder screening tool that suggests whether or not a person may be at risk. This screening tool addresses several warning signs and asks questions such as the importance of weight compared to other aspects of life.
With diet culture and weight stigma being perpetuated throughout our society, it’s no wonder why body dissatisfaction is a prevalent issue. Sociocultural idealization of thinness suggests that we have to lose weight or look a certain way in order to be the best version of ourselves. This is untrue because everyone has genetic traits that influence their body size and each person can be healthy across a range of weights. In order to promote body positivity, NEDA created a body acceptance challenge, which is a simple yet meaningful pledge that invites people to accept their own body, respect other’s bodies, and fight weight stigma.
In addition to raising awareness about eating disorders and providing helpful resources, NEDA advocates on both the federal and state levels for education, training, early intervention and prevention programs, funding for research, and improved access for treatment of eating disorders. NEDA also hosts annual walks in nearly 100 cities across the U.S. During these walks, money is raised to fund eating disorder education, prevention, support, and research.
To help be a part of the solution, we can all reevaluate how our words, thoughts, and internalized beliefs can affect others as well as our own well-being around body image. Fighting diet culture and weight stigma, rather than accepting them as suitable cultural standards, allows for higher levels of body acceptance. Additionally, realizing that eating disorders can affect any type of person is crucial for giving everyone access to treatment and recovery.