According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, (ANAD) about 8 million Americans today suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders encapsulate a spectrum of mental illnesses surrounding eating abnormalities, and among the most common are Anorexia Nervosa, which encompasses extreme food restriction, Bulimia Nervosa, which includes patterns of binging and purging and Binge-eating disorder, which is marked by eating large quantities of food in a short period of time.
There are several misconceptions surrounding eating disorders. To begin with, eating disorders are not a lifestyle decision. They are not a choice, a fad, or an indication of superficiality. An individual with an eating disorder can have an eating disorder without looking dangerously underweight. People of all genders, ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes are affected by eating disorders. The causes are complex in nature, relying on numerous factors surrounding genetics, environment, and individual personalities.
The consequences of falling ill are not to be taken lightly: eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. ANAD estimates that at least one person in the world dies from an eating disorder every hour.
The prevalence of eating disorders have steadily been on the rise in the past years, and while its causes are unique to each case, much of it is due to the rapid globalization of Western culture and the ubiquity of social media. The idea of the “ideal body” has been subconsciously embedded into our minds. In this generation, social media, whether you like it or not, is everywhere. I myself went cold turkey on social media for a bulk of first semester, deactivating various platforms in efforts to spend less time on my phone and more on what mattered to me. For something that is meant to connect and bring people together, I’d never felt more lonely than I did scrolling through social media.
I’ve often felt sick to my stomach upon hearing my friends compare themselves to what they see online. What is often hard to remember is that social media portrays the perfect version of ourselves, as people post what they want other people to see. They post candids with friends, beautiful vacation shots, and flawless abs. These carefully curated online identities are not real. Yet, not only do I find myself constantly reminding my friends of this fact, I also have to remind myself. As much as I’d like to view the world through the Clarendon filter with the saturation on high, the reality is that all of us have good and bad days.
Pinewood’s school counselor Tina Maier is experienced in assisting students with mental health issues such as eating disorders. In an interview, Maier emphasized the gravity of suffering with an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa.
“We’re not dealing with some simple little thing. We’re dealing with the possibility that a child is restricting calories at a time when your body and brain are still growing…that’s something you don’t play around with because it’s a threat to the self,” Maier said.
It can be difficult to watch a loved one suffer alongside you, unsure of how to help. “You need to fine tune your instinct and trust that voice in your head that says something’s not right here,” said Maier. If you or a friend is suffering from an eating disorder, please reach out and find a trusted adult or professional for help.
The stigma surrounding eating disorders is only perpetuating the deadly illness and skewed body image. While changing an entire culture seems daunting, cultivating a healthy environment for both yourself and others starts with small steps. Avoid making comments having to do with physical appearance, even ones that seem deceptively complimentary. Comments like, “ugh, you’re so skinny, I hate you,” encourage superficial validation. I’ll be the first to admit that I set unrealistic expectations for myself. Maybe it’s a bit presumptuous for a high school senior to spew life advice, but
if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 17 years, it’s that life is about balance. Prioritize what you value, find time to explore and figure yourself out, and above all else, don’t compare yourself to others. Call it happiness, contentment, enlightenment – whatever it is, you’re not going to find it without self-acceptance. The world is not a “one-size-fits-all,” and thank goodness – how boring would that be?
Pinewood is an extraordinarily caring and accepting environment, but as you celebrate your fellow Pinewoodians, don’t forget to celebrate yourself, as well.
The National Eating Disorder Association provides a helpline at: (800) 931-2237.