Eating disorders are one of the most talked about psychological disorders besides depression and anxiety, and there are many organizations and individuals attempting to prevent and treat them. But are these efforts producing any results?
In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, which occurs from October 2 to 8, it’s time to look at what is currently being accomplished in regard to eating disorders. Society is still promoting thin as being the ideal body type, and despite awareness efforts, eating disorders are still not taken seriously.
For example, a Halloween costume made headlines for its promotion/sexualization of anorexia nervosa. The costume is a black dress with bones on it, and a red heart nametag saying “Anna Rexia.”
At the same time, efforts by organizations and individuals have not gone unnoticed, despite the massive amount of work that still needs to be done. The Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) held the first National Weight Stigma Awareness Week from Sept. 26 to 30.
“We want to raise awareness around weight stigma and how a focus on weight rather than health and placing a higher value on ‘thin’ can, in fact, have a negative effect on the physical and mental health of a person-of-size — especially those who have or are predisposed to eating disorders,” said Chevese Turner, the CEO of the association, in a press release.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) works year-round to help people suffering from eating disorders. The association is hosting a teen summit on Oct. 15, along with its annual conference, to address body image issues that affect teens.
The teen summit is called “Making Real the New Ideal: Body Image, Self-Esteem & Media,” according to NEDA’s website.
While organizations are still hosting or sponsoring many awareness events, individuals are making a stand to educate others about eating disorders as well.
Jenni Schaefer, an author and ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, said in an email that she has dedicated her life to awareness efforts.
“After battling an eating disorder for almost 20 years, I am finally recovered,” Schaefer said. “Now, my life's work is to fight against the illness and to help others find freedom.”
She’s written two books about eating disorders: “Life Without Ed” and “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me.” She said since her first book, “Life Without Ed,” was released in 2003, she has noticed a changing trend in males coming forward with eating disorders.
“It seems that with each year, more and more men are stepping forward,” Schaefer said. “The audience at my talks used to include mostly females suffering from eating disorders. Today, many men who battle eating disorders themselves attend my presentations. They are often accompanied by supportive male friends, including fraternity brothers or athletic team members. I am grateful that the stigma of eating disorders being a ‘female disease’ seems to be fading away, albeit slowly.”
She also said women of all ages are still having problems with eating disorders, and although this hasn’t changed, she still thinks organizations like NEDA are helpful.
“I receive emails from girls as young as 9 years old to women over age 70 battling eating disorders,” Schaefer said. “It seems that no one is immune to eating disorders in this day and age.”
Jennifer Nardozzi, the national training manager of the Renfrew Center Foundation, said in an email that there have been some noticeable improvements in areas of society in regard to body image, despite the still-held thin ideal.
“The modeling industry has changed the weight standards for models on the runway, celebrities are taking a stand on not allowing photo shopped pictures to be published, and recently a woman on Dancing with the Stars asked the media not to comment on her weight,” Nardozzi said.
She added that there are many specialized centers now, such as the Renfrew Center, to help people who have eating disorders as well, which shows the dedication there is to helping people recover.
Little, Lyneka. Eating experts have bone to pick with controversial ‘Anna Rexia’ costume. Online store pulls controversial anorexia costume – ABC News. Web. October 5, 2011.
PRWeb. BEDA launches first annual national weight stigma awareness week. Web. October 5, 2011.
NEDA. Teen Summit at the NEDA Conference. Web. October 5, 2011. http://neda.nationaleatingdisorders.org/site/Calendar?id=100423&view=Detail
Schaefer, Jenni. Email interview. October 4, 2011.
Nardozzi, Jennifer. Email interview. October 5, 2011.
Reviewed October 6, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith