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  • Writer's pictureAnne-Claire

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Last week (February 27 - March 5) was Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This means that a LOT of information was shared on social media from a large number of accounts, including my own little @path_to_recovered page on Instagram.


The posts were shared by so many of you (THANK YOU 🫶) and maybe, together, we did make a little difference for someone out there.


Since these are pieces of data that I often reference, I figured that finding them a home on my website made sense. So here is a little recap of last week's posts:


1. Eating disorders can affect anyone


The stereotype that permeates society and the medical system is that of an emaciated, young, white woman. The reality, however, is that eating disorders do NOT discriminate based on gender, age, race, sexual orientation, size, etc.


Here are some facts about ED sufferers:

  • 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men or boys (1)

  • from 1999 to 2009, the number of men hospitalized for an eating disorder-related cause increased by 53% (2)

  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals are at least 4 times as likely to struggle with an eating disorder than their cisgender counterparts (3)

  • Black teenagers are more likely than white teenagers to use binging and purging behaviours (4)

  • Elevated rates of binging behaviours and bulimia are also observed in Hispanic adolescents. (5)(6)

  • Less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight” (7)

  • Women with physical disabilities are more likely to develop eating disorders (8)

  • 20-30% of adults with eating disorders also have autism (9)

…and some facts about the treatment they (don’t) receive:

  • BIPOC with eating disorders are half as likely to be diagnosed or to receive treatment (10)

  • People in larger bodies are half as likely to be diagnosed as those at a “normal weight” or “underweight” (11)

  • 20% of women who suffer from anorexia have high levels of autistic traits, and there is evidence that they benefit the least from current eating disorder treatment models (9)


Eating disorders do not discriminate... but the stereotypes have important consequences on access to treatment.


Eating disorders do not discriminate... but the existing forms of treatment can be further stigmatizing or harmful for some individuals.


2. Eating disorders are deadly


I am often appalled by how people respond to eating disorders. These are serious medical conditions and are certainly not "just about vanity or seeking attention"!


A few heartbreaking facts to support this:

  • Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose (12)

  • One death every 52 minutes is a direct result of an eating disorder… that's 10.200 deaths each year! (10)

  • About 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide (12)

Yes, there often is a link between body image and eating disorders... but that's the direct result of the sociocultural idealization of thinness (see below), not proof that they are about vanity.

And if eating disorders were about seeking attention, we wouldn't be having so many discussions about being "sick enough"!


The reality is that many sufferers go to great lengths to hide and minimise their struggles.


Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders. Not a choice. Not a lifestyle.

Sufferers deserve to be taken seriously.


3. Red flags


This is a non-exhaustive list of red flags that may indicate an eating disorder:

  • Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating

  • Excessive focus on healthy eating

  • Engaging frequently in diets

  • Only eating alone

  • Only eating food when they “know what went into it” and/or when the food is “perfect”

  • Refusing to eat at restaurants

  • Telling people they just ate so they don't have to eat with them

  • Counting calories

  • Drinking water/coffee, chewing gum or using any substance to suppress their hunger

  • Comparing food intake to others and/or fixating on other people’s food

  • Wanting to be around food all the time

  • Scrutinising food labels

  • Eating very slowly

  • Eating the same foods, every day

  • Having to eat at certain times only

  • Consuming lots of “food porn”

  • Mood swings when being presented with food

  • Withdrawing from normal social activities

  • Leaving during meals to use the toilet

  • Using a journal or fitness tracker to meticulously track calories, macros, movement, etc.

  • Hiding food wrappers

  • Weighing themselves frequently

  • Using dietary supplements, laxatives or herbal products for weight loss

  • Walking around the grocery store and not buying anything

  • Feeling disinterested in daily life, including activities they once enjoyed

  • Persistently worrying or complaining about “feeling fat”

  • Obsessing over losing weight

  • Frequently checking in the mirror for perceived flaws or hyper-fixating on specific body parts

  • Refusing to take photos (alone or with others)

  • Expressing disgust, shame, or guilt about eating habits

  • Feeling guilty or stressed about eating food

  • Assigning moral value to food, movement, body size,…

  • Exercising excessively

  • “Making up for” consumed food with exercise

  • Never willing to take a day off of movement

  • Having the inability to sit still, rest, be unproductive

Why are we sharing red flags and spreading awareness on ED symptoms?


Because early detection and intervention improve the speed of recovery, reduce symptoms to a greater extent and improve the likelihood of healing. (13)


Unfortunately, the reality is also that many of these red flags are normalised by diet culture, which makes them stand out a whole lot less... and gets people to suffer longer.


4. The impact of stereotypes and normalised disordered habits


Question for you:

What do you think happens when the stereotype that permeates society and the medical system (point 1) doesn't match reality, and when disordered behaviours (point 3) are normalised?

Answer:

People don't get the help they need and deserve, people suffer for too long, people die (point 2).


...now you know why professionals in the field are so wound up and why many of us try to use our voices to foster change.


5. The true cost of diet culture


We already pointed out the normalisation of disordered behaviours (see point 3).


And it goes further...


The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness. (14) In other words: our ranking of bodies and people's worth is contributing to others' suffering.

Although the environment is not the sole cause of eating disorders... it is something we can change.

How? Ditch diet culture.


One accessible, doable step for MOST of us is to disrupt diet culture and anti-fat bias conversations around you.


What does that mean?

  • At a minimum: don’t engage in those conversations.

  • Do not comment on people’s bodies.

  • Do not compliment weight loss.

  • Do not criticise weight gain (and “out of care” is absolute BS too, weight ≠ health).

  • Do not talk about your latest diet.

  • Don’t place moral value on food or movement habits (“I’m good today and _____” or “I can eat _____ because I just did _______”).

This latest post was inspired by Dr Deb Burgard who wrote:

Imagine if it was safe to be fat. Femme. Black. Trans. Disabled. Immigrant. Sick. Indigenous. Old. Queer. Imagine if our spiritual ideas embraced the sacredness of our bodies and our planet, rather than elevating some of us—and some parts of us—as more precious than others. Without the ranking of bodies, where would eating disorder ideas take hold? What would they organize around? What if we were already safe?”

I will leave you with this beautiful quote... with the hope that awareness efforts don't stop now that EDAW is over and that they turn into action.


💛,

Anne-Claire


 

Anne-Claire Jedrzejczak(she/her) is a Carolyn Costin Institute Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT500), and co-founder of The Recovery Collective. A former finance professional, Anne-Claire’s eating disorder recovery journey led her from the high-paced corporate world to the study of yoga, and eventually to eating disorder recovery coaching and mental health advocacy. She now guides others to meet their recovery goals, transform their relationship with food, their body, and themselves so they can live an authentic and fulfilling life.


 

References:


(1) Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G. and Kessler, R. C. (2007)

(2) Zhao, Y. and Encinosa, W. (2011)

(3) Penn Medicine News (2019)

(4) Goeree, M. S., Ham, J. C. and Iorio, D. (2011),

(5) Swanson et al. (2011)

(6) Becker, A. E., Franko, D. L., Speck, A., & Herzog, D. B. (2003)

(7) Flament, M., Henderson, K., Buchholz, A., Obeid, N., Nguyen, H., Birmingham, M., Goldfield, G. (2015)

(8) Disabilities and Eating Disorders and Their Connection. (Eating Disorder Hope, 2019)

(9) Solmi, et al. (2020)

(10) Deloitte Access Economics (2020)

(11) Nagata et al. (2018)

(12) Arcelus et al. (2011)

(13) nedc.com.au

(14) Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015)

PS - I will someday come back and get this reference list properly written out 😇

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