Supporting Sufferers Of Eating Disorders The Right Way

On Wednesday, the Empire State Building was lit up in blue and green in support of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 23rd to March 1st). The same day, NYU residence halls and the Commuter Student Council hosted a series of photoshoots in order to bring attention to NEDA Week and to support body positivity.

The theme of this year’s NEDA Week is “I Had No Idea,” which particularly resonated with me. For the past four-and-a-half years, I’ve struggled with anorexia and bulimia, and up until very recently, almost no one knew; in fact, this is the first time I have ever felt comfortable enough to post this publicly. Because I didn’t fit the traditional eating disorder stereotype, no one had an inkling that my life was being destroyed by this illness.

For the majority of my eating disorder’s duration, I was not underweight. I ate lunch four times a week at Kimmel with my friends. I tried to avoid voicing my insecurities and talking about weight loss, and I was–and still am–far too lazy to do any sort of exercise. Because I wasn’t the histrionic, emaciated girl pursuing an extreme diet that’s often represented in movies and TV, no one ever suspected that I had a problem. 

The broad term “eating disorder” can refer to Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)–sometimes referred to as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). In fact, most sufferers are not underweight, and at the core, eating disorders are not about being thin, nor are they just extreme diets; rather, they are genuine and serious illnesses with genetic, biological, and psychological roots.

Many of the pictures from the NYU photoshoot reiterate the ideas that both I and other sufferers have heard: That we are beautiful just the way we are, that food is great, so we can eat it whenever we want, and that Beyoncé is hot, despite being a healthy weight.

Promoting body positivity is very important; however, doing so attempts to ameliorate merely the physical symptoms of an eating disorder, which unintentionally supports the myth that eating disorders stem solely from attempts to be beautiful and thin, while neglecting the real origins.

As victims of these illnesses, we are more than just our bodies. Our disorders do not stem from the media, our childhood Barbie’s unrealistically tiny waist, or the fashion industry. Hearing that we’re beautiful will not help us mend our relationships with food, nor will emphasizing how “real women have curves.”

If we as a community want to really start supporting victims of eating disorders, we need to stop emphasizing what’s on the outside. Instead of saying “you’re beautiful,” let’s start saying “you are a good person, regardless of what you look like.” Let’s talk about how great it is to be funny or creative or smart, rather than how great junk food tastes.

While it’s true that there is beauty in each and every one of us, there is so much more to a person than what we can see.

[Image via]



One Comment

  • Dr. Kathleen Fuller (@HUGirl)
    February 28, 2014

    Your article has many important points. Over the past 14 years I’ve seen such progress in raising awareness for how to understand and change our talk about what is important for good self-esteem. I write about eating disorders on my blog and have posted 15 intuitive drawings comparing anorexia with acute cancer. Check it out – you may be inspired in a different way. Creativity is a self-esteem gift as you mentioned.

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