28 thoughts on “The Stigma Of Eating Disorders & Setting Stereotypes Straight

  • May 18, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Wonderful post – so true! Yes, eating disorders are life-taking and and life-crushing, but they are treatable. There is an evidence-based treatment, Family-Based Treatment, that can help even those who are ill but cannot work towards their own recovery because they have two very common elements of anorexia, namely, that they don’t recognize that they are ill and experience their symptoms as congruent with their own values, even when desperately physically ill.

    Here is an excellent source of the most up-to-date information about eating disorders: http://www.feast-ed.org/. And here is an excellent moderated forum (associated with feast-ed.org) for parents and caregivers of those with eating disorders that I have found invaluable in helping to get my daughter into effective treatment: http://www.aroundthedinnertable.org/

  • May 18, 2011 at 9:31 am

    My fear of anyone finding out about my ED has been a paralysing barrier to me even accepting help for nearly a year. The stigma, to me, was so terrifying I believed I would lose my friends, lose my job, I even thought people would be see me as somehow dangerous (those words ‘mentally ill’ make me so uncomfortable). Even now I think it was the threat of being hospitalised that forced me to finally admit to my partner what was going on. And I will spend the rest of my life encouraging people to NEVER stay silent about ED. It is the silence that feeds the ED. And the stigma feeds the silence. Sadly I don’t think we can ever get rid of the stigma – which is why I have been very careful about whom I confide my secret to. But I have started confiding – and so have started recovering. And one day, when I am stronger, I hope to overcome my fear of stigma to encourage other older women to understand that you don’t have to be 15 to have an ED, and it’s never too late to seek help 🙂

  • May 18, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I’m currently reading another book by Lui titled Gaining and am really finding it beneficial to my recovery. I’m very thankful for these people who are standing up for all of us and trying to eliminate the stigma of ED.

  • May 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I recently did an interview with Aimee Liu about the stigma of eating disorders! It’s definitely a powerful message I took away from her book, and something I see play out each and every day when it comes to insurance coverage, friends caregivers being in denial about the severity, and even individuals with EDs stigmatizing themselves and others.

  • May 18, 2011 at 10:45 am

    i think it’s so important to recognize that eating disorders can affect anyone at any age. i have two friends who are both ‘middle-aged’ (terrible term) that are struggling right now. it’s NOT just a teenage thing.

    and the whole mortality thing – scares me because it’s so true.

  • May 18, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Thank you Margarita for sharing this essential information in your blogpost today. I did not know that all the net royalties from Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives by Aimee Liu will be donated to the research scholarship fund at the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED). That is fantastic. Considering that NIH research dollars for eating disorders is $.70 per affected individual compared to $113.00 per affected individual for schizophrenia this is much needed.

    I am so glad to hear you also shouting from the rooftops about the stigma of eating disorders that blocks many from getting help. I just spoke with Dr. Verna Cornelia Price this morning as she is working to improve the lives of young girls. She is seeing this phenomenon of african american girls who are obese and outwardly looking fine with it when on the inside they are very self-conscious and not getting eating disorders diagnosed.

    We have to keep educating our current and future health care professionals to know the basics such as you mention, “They do not discriminate by age, gender, class, color, culture, size, shape or weight.”
    Becky Henry
    Hope Network

  • May 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I’d like to set straight the fact that not everyone with an ED has suffered trauma. Sometimes its internal, genetic.

  • May 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I’d like to win.

    It really affects me because sometimes people appreciate your self-control and envy your body. I mean, when you lose weight, even if you’re not doing it the right way, you get compliments and positive reinforcement. It’s hard to recover when losing weight is so worshiped in our society. Even when I work out, sometimes the running and working out is fueled by my ED, but people will say how healthy my body looks… and have absolutely no idea what I put it through sometimes.


  • May 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I also think it’s important to note that just because a person grows up, it doesn’t mean their ED is magically gone. Most people assume onset can’t occur in adulthood and neither can relapses. Society is a diet and thin obsessed world, so it’s easy to explain away the problem and treat it like EDs don’t exist. Instead of merging away from crazy diets, models, actresses, and even reality TV stars are incredibly thin. So, eating disordered behavior and emaciation are more of the norm leaving eating disorders to blend in and get “swept under the carpet” or even praised.

  • May 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Taking on ED will be one of the hardest things you do, whether you are suffering from any variant of ED or if you’re a parent, spouse, sibling or a friend.

    ED is made worse by the casual dismissal of it’s cause as a lack of will or a phase or some other snappy one-liner that devalues it’s criticality or promotes the incorrect stereotypes, seen in the media. These factual errors in cause and treatment are an enormous barrier to recovery.

    When it comes to ED, education of the sufferer AND the support team about the biological nature of this insidious illness and the criticality of it’s effect is essential to recovery and a future of wellness.

    Mark Wright (Parent)

  • May 18, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    This is a wonderful post. I completely identify with the stigma… I struggled for a long time with telling people that I’ve struggled with Anorexia. It’s met with such uncertainty, fear, humor or disdain. And it was even more awkward that I was in my 30’s when I finally sought treatment! People assumed it was just a teenage affliction. But I finally realized that talking about it has helped me in my recovery immensely. I hope that more people can gain an understanding, because that will help those suffering to get the support they need.

  • May 18, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Great post!
    Eating disorder stigmas… erg. In FL, last I heard, they made a mental health insurance law that demands mental health is covered… but eating disorders are not covered because they are a “life style choice.”
    What has helped me in recovery? Supportive sisters and husband, professors that would work with me, and insight. I do believe that inpatient treatment helped me a great deal. Rader in CA is a horrible place (emaciated staff, hardly any monitoring, etc.), Sheppard Pratt really helped me stop behaviors. Now I can choose if I want to engage in behaviors or not. Getting insurance to cover treatment was a BEAR.

  • May 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    This is a great post.

    Eating disorders are so complicated I wish people realized anyone can get them, any body type can have a disorder, and the fix isn’t as simple as saying “eat a sandwich” or “go on a diet.”

  • May 19, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I live in England, so thankfully my ED treatment is funded (for now…) by the NHS. This, however, did not protect me from my fair share of stigma from even medical professionals.

    When I realised how suicidal and out of control I had become due to my ED, I decided to visit my GP for help. I was terrified, and completely destroyed when he said it was “just a phase” and that I should just drink high calorie milkshake. Months later my Dad was in tears seeing me kill myself slowly, and took me to the GP himself. It was only then that I received help, my weight was much lower and it felt like it took me getting worse to be granted support.

    That being said, I changed GP and the one I’m with now is an absolute diamond; very supportive and understanding.

  • May 19, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Number one- No one should be afraid to seek professional help for an eating disorder because of the fear of not being taken seriously. Your eating is as serious, debilitating, and potentially lethal as a form cancer. Think about it: only 50% of anorexics fully recover from their disease. No other fatal, incapacitating illness is taken as lightly as eating disorders and this fact should NEVER discourage you from getting help. If your doctor or therapist won’t listen to you, fire him/her and get a new one. If your friends don’t listen to you, find better people out there who will be more supportive of you in recovery. As this forum should prove, there are people out there who understand and who want to assist you.

    Number two- I’m a year and a half into recovery and it drives me absolutely insane that I can’t tell people the story of my amazing transformation. I literally pulled myself back from the edge of suicide and now have blossomed into this wonderful, full person because I learned to let go of my eating disorder and negative thinking and embrace life. And I’ve only been able to accomplish this because everyday I did that what I feared the most again and again and again- eat. Honestly, I feel like I deserve $10,000 and a cruise for beating this illness and instead I have to walk around like nothing’s happened. I mean, what gives?

  • May 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

    My fear of stigma in the workplace prevented me from seeking the full treatment options I needed last fall. I went the route of EIOP just to try and pretend to have some semblance of a normal life. Now I am realizing I need the more intense support of PHP, and am facing the fears again about letting people in my life know about my ED.

    Part of me wishes I would have just done PHP in the fall, and maybe I wouldn’t have had such a hard few months, but who knows maybe I just wasn’t ready for PHP. And I’m thankful for the friendships I made in EIOP.

  • May 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Even though I’ve been in recovery for a couple of years, I still can’t imagine telling my parents about my eating disorders experience. I’m afraid they would feel responsible and guilty (one stereotype). I have told many friends though, and their support has been more than valuable. I’m just afraid of being stigmatized in my own family, a more conservative and an older environment than my circle of friends…

    I so want to read Aimee Liu’s last book. I loved Gaining. In fact, I was looking randomly at books on ED recovery at the library when I suddenly saw my name on a cover… wait, not me, another “Aimee L.” I wish I had written that book!!

    Thank you so much for offering us two copies!

  • May 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I find astonishing how we continue with the stigma of eating disorders or any mental illness in this day an age. I love your blog and the understanding that it provides. My hope is that one day we will let go of our fastination with the physical to embrace the rest that life has to offer us.

  • May 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I’d like to dispel the notion that eating disorders are about vanity, or food for that matter. In reality, eating disorders are often maladaptive coping mechanisms that spiral out of control. Furthermore, someone with an ED can’t just “snap out of it” and simply eat more or eat less. It takes a lot of hard work to recover.

  • May 21, 2011 at 9:31 am

    You know, I don’t think there is any social stigma that is worse than what I have believed (and still sort of do) about my eating disorder. For example, that it’s pathetic that a contemporary, middle-class American woman with historically unprecedented access to good food would somehow get to the place where her relationship to eating is so messed up that it fundamentally affected every single part of her life.

    But mostly I just feel sad about it.

    And as far as EDs going undiagnosed in men–I’m a lady, and I was in therapy for years throughout my twenties, and not a single mental-health professional ever said the words “eating disorder” to me, even when I talked about binging and my (endless) obsession with being thin. And these were not egregiously awful therapists, either.

  • May 21, 2011 at 9:32 am

    P.S. Shambhala is one of my favorite publishers. So thrilled that they’ve published a book like this one.

  • May 21, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I would really love to win. I struggled with an eating disorder for several years as a teenager and in college it become worse. Luckily, my close relationship with my mom, who has a fairly healthy body image, was able to help me recover without professional help, because professional help was not something my family could afford. I would love there to be more understanding of eating disorders in the general population and for health insurance to cover eating disorder treatment.

  • May 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I am recovered 5 years from my eating disorder. Recovery IS possible! But it is definitely made difficult by the triggers inherent in today’s society. I find the biggest stigma around eating disorders to be the glamorizing that most women do, misunderstanding the depth of emotion and pain that accompanies the behaviors. I developed my eating disorder at age 36. It was NOT a diet gone wrong. But the assumptions people have made about me and the history behind the ED have been very hurtful. I am now in graduate school in counseling psychology and I plan to work with the eating disorder population. What a blessing it is to share my experiences, wisdom and insight with others experiencing similar struggles.

    P.S. LOVE Aimee Liu’s work!

  • May 22, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Not sure if I’m too late, but just in case I’m not….

    I was diagnosed in August with anorexia nervosa after years of disordered eating and paralyzingly negative body image. I never thought of myself as one of “those girls” who have eating disorders. It was just this way that I could tell myself that I was “okay” and it spiraled out of control. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to stop eating. I thought I was actually being loving to myself by eliminating those situations/foods that always made me feel bad about myself!

    It was only through my own diagnosis and process of recovery that I have realized how limited my own view about people suffering from eating disorders was.

    I have told as many people as I feel safe telling about my eating disorder, as a way to put a face to eating disorders, to make it less taboo to talk about, and to remind myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of.

  • May 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Admitting to myself that I had an ED was not as difficult as admitting to my family and husband. As supportive as they are, they still do not understand the depths of the disease and how it has been a destructive coping mechanism I’ve used to get to where I am today.

    I am a successful, smart, outgoing and talented woman, who has binged, restricted, dieted and over-exercised myself through college and graduate school. People with EDs are not lazy, in fact they are often type A perfectionists and over- achievers. This is a stigma that infuriates me. We are not lazy, unmotivated, without structure or will power.

    I believe this is why it was so difficult to admit to myself and others that I had a problem with ED. NO ONE WOULD’VE EVER GUESSED. Not in a million years. It’s because I kept it secret, a way for me to cope with life, my own expectations and those of family & friends.

    I believe therapy and hard work allowed me to set myself free from “the secret” and slowly develop a relationship with food. Recovery is life-long, but acceptance is the first step.

    As a health care professional, EDs are so misunderstood and are not easily categorized. The DSM-IV does the best at categorizing, but leaves so many behind. Disordered eating often leads to eating disorders.

    I am a huge advocate of prevention and education. That is where we as HCPs need to focus on. Treatment is difficult and research needs to be done (don’t get me wrong), but there needs to be an open dialogue and understanding of eating disorders, types, behaviors, warning signs so that family and friends can pick up clues. Also so that people realize that they exist and are devastating. Oftentimes events happen in childhood that are precursors to EDs. All in all, I believe “the secret” needs to be let out. People need to know about EDs and I think forums, blogs can lead to more knowledge and national campaigns. This is my hope, wish desire for the future.


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