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Breaking down stigma around Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect more than just young women


Written by Ann Cronin and posted in opinion


This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact editor@spunout.ie.


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Eating disorder Awareness Week 2017 takes place from February 26th to March 1st, but I want to emphasise the importance of continuing the conversation after the next week goes by. While we do talk about these issues a lot more these days, there is still the false perception that eating disorders are a “teenage girl problem”, says Bodywhys Communications Officer Barry Murphy.

It is so important that we break down this ridiculous stigma and destroy the gender and age barriers that surround eating disorders. I spoke to the Communications officer Mr. Murphy about this harmful stereotype.

“The breakdown in gender of people with an eating disorder reflected the male to female ratio of 1:10, but it seems very likely that there are many men not coming forward to seek help,” said Bodywhys representative Barry Murphy.

The Bodywhys website explains that men also experience the better known eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia, as well as the less known kinds such as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (E.D.N.O.S).

However, sometimes eating disorders present themselves differently in men. Sometimes, rather simply restricting their diet, men affected by anorexia may focus on over-exercising and building muscle in an attempt to reach the damaging standards that the media portrays.

Muscle Dysmorphia is a disorder in which a person may become obsessed with the belief that they are not muscular enough, and consequently turn to harmful behaviours to try achieve their ideal physique. This condition is not restricted to anyone of any gender but often shows up in men who seek help from Bodywhys.

For older people, there is a double stigma. Eating disorders are a condition that people find it difficult to speak up about, but the negative assumption that it is a teenage issue makes it even more difficult for sufferers to seek help.

In the 2015 Annual Bodywhys Report, it was revealed that the majority of people who contacted the Bodywhys Helpline, in which their age was known, were between the ages of 25 and 35. There was also a 9% increase in people aged 36-55 and an 8% rise in people aged over 56. This means that the majority of calls taken by Bodywhys in 2015 concerned someone aged over 36-years old. The email support service showed similar results.

“This provides even more proof that “the teenage issue” assumption is merely a myth. The increase of online and helpline contact shows that people are still afraid about coming forward. Often, the emails we receive from older people are very apologetic and nervous,” Barry said about the report.

Barry put this increase down to the victims desperately in need of help but too afraid or ashamed to publically seek support.

“There was a case in which we had to shut down a support group in a small area because of low attendance. People don’t always want to attend meetings and support groups in case they run into someone they know. People are ashamed to admit they have an eating disorder because of the stigma attached to it,” Barry said about the report.

The report also revealed that 47% of those who contacted Bodywhys Helpline service were family or friends of someone who appeared to have developed an eating disorder and were seeking advice on how to help their loved one. This shows that many of those who are suffering are too afraid to come forward themselves.

As numbers of eating disorder cases in Ireland are constantly increasing, it is crucial that we work towards putting an end to eating disorders. Eating disorders are the biggest psychiatric cause of death.

“Often, people need to have a personal connection with an eating disorder to understand it. There is more awareness now, but not much understanding. We understand the terms and definitions but not the experience,” Communications Officer Barry Murphy concluded.

We must work towards a better understanding of eating disorders if we wish to break down these stereotypes which cause people to suffer in secret for years. If you suspect that you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, or if you want to learn more, visit the Bodywhys website

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Published February 14th, 2017
Tags eating disorder eating disorders body image
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