If I asked you to close your eyes and visualize what someone with an eating disorder looks like, you would probably imagine a white, adolescent female from a middle to upper-class family. The reality is eating disorders do not discriminate. You are not too fat to have an eating disorder; your size neither determines your diagnosis nor illustrates the severity of your illness. You are not too old to have an eating disorder. Research suggests that the fastest-growing portion of our society diagnosed with eating disorders is middle-aged women. People of color are not protected from negative body image by their race or ethnicity. Recovery may even be more difficult for them if they experience racism in daily life. Lack of available and/or accessible, respectful treatment options hinder recovery. All people can and often do experience body shame. How eating disorders develop and how a person experiences it will very likely be different depending on gender identity, size, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability, financial stability, genetics, family history and locale.
Nearly 20 million women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. Girls between the ages of 15 and 24 are twelve times more likely to die from this illness than any other cause of death. Medical complications include multi-organ failure, infertility, decaying teeth, heart attack and stroke. In spite of these staggering statistics in modern society, harmful myths and stereotypes often keep people from realizing they may need help. The disturbing nature of this illness is that it isolates those suffering from loved ones who can often help with recovery.
Eating disorders are not a choice. Someone does not choose to have an eating disorder any more than he/she would choose to have cancer. Girls as young as six years of age are expressing concerns about their weight and appearance. More than 80 percent of 10 year-old girls are afraid of being fat and nearly half of girls between the ages of 9 and 11 often diet to lose weight. These behaviors can and often pave the way for eating disorders at a young age.
Recovery from an eating disorder is difficult, but it is possible. Although the illness was not your choice, recovery is your decision. You will not go through recovery alone; you will discover an amazing community waiting right by your side. Consider your dreams, for they are possible in recovery. Trust your soul, and it will show you the way to healing.
If you or a loved one has an eating disorder, consider taking this confidential, three-minute online screening from the National Eating Disorder Association: nedawareness.org/get-screened. Ozark Center has specialized treatment providers to help guide you through recovery.