Speaking up about eating disorders

Reducing stigma around eating disorders.

Written by Anna Wilhite


If you were to take a survey of people from the street it would be rare to find anyone that has not heard of what it means to have an eating disorder. Most people would probably tell you they knew of someone that has or may be struggling with an eating disorder. Back just a few decades ago these numbers would be significantly lower as the percentage of people with eating disorders has increased dramatically.  The one thing you would find to be difficult is to come across people willing to talk about eating disorders. Whether it’s about what it means, what the person with the eating disorder is facing, how it comes about, what to do to change things, or even personal experience. 

This past Friday I spent an afternoon attending a conference that dealt primarily with the topic of eating disorders and media.  There was a ton of information and statistics thrown around by professionals, “This many men and this many women face issues of…” or “This percentage of people report feeling…”  After a while my brain felt kind of jumbled and I had trouble keeping up with all the numbers. So when all the speakers had finished speaking and the final closing words were said I asked myself, “What did I take from this?”

I took that there is this growing issue of men and women dealing with eating disorders often linked from what the media is putting out in the world. I have been taught at early age that when you have an issue a solution needs to be worked towards.  But I am just one person, a person with no professional level of education in this area, and even if I talked to 50 other people there are still billions of others in the world.

When I thought about that I was immediately discouraged by how much work I would have to put in to feel I had made any difference. But wait a minute… if I talk to 3 people about the awareness of eating disorders just maybe 1 of those people would talk to 3 others. Then maybe 1 of those 3 would talk to 3 more; so by me talking to 3 people several others heard my message. And what if my message helped someone open up about them battling an eating disorder? Or what if a person thought a little more about being so judgmental towards people?

It’s easy to fantasize about spreading a message of awareness about eating disorders and to see this dramatic change in the world.  But I realize the truth of the matter is that changes won’t be easy to see. In fact, it will take years to see big changes.  Again, another discouraging realization, but do I need to see a world of change to want to make a difference? Wouldn’t I be over the moon happy just to feel as if one person’s quality of life improved even if not directly because of me?

Now that would be genuinely rewarding.

So here is my message to you, not to the media or the government or to the professional eating disorder counselor. Speak up. Speak up about how many people go day-to-day with the feeling of failing to meet society’s standards. Speak up when someone makes a comment about how they look. Speak up when someone makes a comment about how someone else looks. Speak up about how there are tons of confidential resources to gain help from. Speak up about breaking the social stigma towards people with eating disorders having a choice about it.

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