Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder Stereotypes as Barriers

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Day by day, our society is learning stereotypes serve as barriers. These barriers prevent change. They prevent help from reaching those who need it most. So let’s talk about stereotypes and misconceptions today, particularly as they relate to individuals with eating disorders.


Stereotypes as Barriers | Libero

1. Individuals struggling with eating disorders bring it upon themselves, are ungrateful, or selfish.

“Selfish” comes into play because some individuals struggling may purge what they’ve eaten, binge, and therefore use food to excess, or even throw food in the trash by way of restricting. While there are many people in many countries who are starving and lack food, individuals with eating disorders are not inherently selfish. They are not wasting food to be unkind or self-absorbed.

Some individuals with eating disorders are also called “selfish” because they put their friends and family members through a world of pain, but those with eating disorders are not intentionally hurting the people they love. People with eating disorders have a problem, much like people with cancer have a problem. People with cancer unintentionally hurt their family and friends because their loved ones often see them in pain. People with eating disorders are fighting a hard battle too.

People with eating disorders are regular people – with a problem. And I can tell you firsthand that most of the time, they feel bad enough about “wasting” food or hurting others. They don’t need an insensitive stereotype to add pressure and pain.

Eating disorders are wrapped in a lot of guilt. Stereotypes fuel the guilt.

2. Eating disorders are a choice.

No one wakes up in the morning and says “I want to have an eating disorder. Today is the day I make that happen.” There may be misguided individuals out there who have fleeting thoughts of eating disordered behavior or ill-advised dreams of being thinner, controlled, or even sick. There are people who log onto pro-anorexia websites hoping to learn tricks and tactics. This is a fact. But an eating disorder is not a choice.

We are dealt certain cards in life biologically. Some people are predisposed to develop an eating disorder. Some are not. Some people have other mental health concerns like depression or anxiety, which may play a role. Environmental and social factors from family life and beyond can also play a part. Those things are not choices.

Recovery from an eating disorder, however, is a choice.

Yes, there are things that are in a person’s control. And there are also things that are not in a person’s control. The things that cannot be controlled are often the most difficult for the world at large to comprehend. Stereotypes ensue.

3. Eating disorders are only serious if they are diagnosed as Anorexia or Bulimia.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is equally as distressing, unhealthy, scary, and yes – it is a real disorder. It affects women and men, children and adults. People with BED are various shapes, sizes, and weights. They face stereotypes and stigmas.

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is also serious. Professionals treating and diagnosing eating disorders must be aware that a diagnosis of EDNOS is less important than the collection of symptoms and behaviors exhibited by the patients themselves, and that unlike certain other diagnostic categories, an eating disorder of any kind is still an eating disorder, and warrants extensive treatment.

Professionals should also assure patients they are worthy (and in need) of help despite their (less recognized) EDNOS diagnosis. Most people who seek help for an eating disorder do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for Anorexia or Bulimia.

Individuals with eating disorders are not ugly inside.

They’re not fundamentally selfish, ungrateful, self-centered, or thoughtless. They are people with a problem. We all have problems. And we all know how negative stereotypes can impact us as we grapple with problems.

One of the ways we can strike stereotypes about eating disorders from the societal record is to talk about them. Keep talking. We can’t hide them away, pretend they don’t exist, or be ashamed of them. We have to talk about them, and the more we talk, the more we will be able to change things. Change is important. Change is vital. Change is possible.

Arielle is an MSW, LSW, writer, and blogger. She is a Hospice Social Worker, widow, stepmomma, and wife. She has professional experience with eating disorders, domestic violence, grief and loss. She loves her work, her family, her cats, and her dog! She most often writes about grief, loss, end of life issues, and suicide. Gratitude fuels her every move.

SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.