In a society focused on body image, exercise and the newest diet guaranteed to help you “lose weight,” it is easy to forget about those who are struggling with eating disorders nationwide and how our complicated relationships with our body image negatively impact our lives.
According to the National Eating Disorder Awareness organization, “30 million Americans will struggle with a full-blown eating disorder and millions more will battle food and body image issues that have untold negative impacts on their lives.” However, the organization goes on to say, “because of stigma and old stereotypes, many people don’t get the support they deserve.”
This is where National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26th-March 3rd) steps in, to help shed light on a topic that often goes unheard and help individuals struggling with eating disorders start on a path toward recovery.
This year’s campaign, “Let’s Get Real,” is focused on breaking down the misconceptions and busting myths about eating disorders. The NDSU Counseling Center is proud to be sponsoring speaker Adam Pope, an eating disorder survivor and advocate, to share some of his experiences with the Fargo-Moorhead community.
Pope’s presentation, “He Has an Eating Disorder? Struggles with College, Relationships and Anorexia,” will be held on Wednesday, February 28th at 5:00 p.m. in the Century Theater of the Memorial Union.
Marlys Borkhuis, assistant director and counselor at the NDSU Counseling Center, was able to shed some light on the subject as the awareness week approaches.
Borkhuis explained that our society has a culture that is obsessed with body image, while giving examples of models on runways that are “skin and bones” but also narrowing the focus down to children who make fun of each other based on perceived body weight.
“People are either mocked for being overweight or mocked for being underweight – too skinny,” Borkhuis stated while speaking of the ideal body image society holds over our heads.
“People get judgey about it if someone has an eating disorder,” she added, “We think women should be thin but not too thin. We mock them.
For most of those who judge individuals with eating disorders, Bokhuis believes that they do not fully understand what it is like to live with one.
“When I think of Anorexia, I think of seeing the scale go down and the lower your weight goes, you’re thinking begins to become irrational. The focus turns to the fat and the fear of gaining weight,” Borkhuis stated as she explained the anxiety that lies at the heart of almost all eating disorders.
Borkhuis stated that, for people with eating disorders, there is a disconnect between how their brain perceives their body image and the reality of their situation. For victims of eating disorders, they are constantly struggling with a fear of gaining more weight and, according to Borkhuis, more often than not “they will do anything to get rid of that anxiety.”
Eating disorders are tough, and Borkhuis explained how our society’s culture of body image negatively impacts the victims. “People don’t choose to have an anxiety disorder,” Borkhuis continued, “It is something you accidentally fall into. It seems innocent at first, but often the need to lose weight can become an obsession.”
This is often where an eating disorder begins, and unfortunately for most victims, we live in a society where our unhealthy relationship with our body image makes it easier for us to fall prey to our own minds.
While there has been more attention brought to eating disorders recently in the media with portrayals of eating disorders such as Netflix’s original “To the Bone,” it is clear to Borkhuis and others who help treat victims of eating disorders that stereotypes and outdated misconceptions still affect the conversation.
“Not all people with eating disorders are skinny,” Borkhuis explained while debunking myths popularized by pop culture and modern-day media. “Some people may be overweight and have an eating disorder,” Borkhuis stated, explaining that they could be binging and purging.
Borkhuis explained that in the past people used to believe that eating disorders were caused by bad mothers or family dynamics, but we know today that there are some genetic components to eating disorders. This includes a history of eating disorders in the family or an individual being more vulnerable to eating disorders.
However, she stated that we still have much to learn about eating disorders and we do not yet fully understand what causes them or how to effectively treat them.
Another misconception about eating disorders that Borkhuis explained, was the media’s portrayal of eating disorders as a “woman’s disease.” This incorrectly erases many male victims who struggle with eating disorders but feel unable to reach out for help due to this stereotype.
“That is why we are excited to have Adam speak,” Borkhuis stated, explaining that, while women often focus on becoming thin, most men with eating disorders are more focused on having a muscular build to conform to society’s expectations of conventional attractiveness.
Borkhuis debunked one final myth, in which many people incorrectly believe that eating disorders go away over time. She stated that, in rare cases, some people are able to pull themselves out of it, but for most, they will deal with their eating disorder for the rest of their lives, and some die from it.
Borkhuis explained that Anorexia has the highest death toll among eating disorders.
“It’s hard on the entire family,” Borkhuis stated while discussing how eating disorders affect the friends and family of the victims, explaining that eating disorders are gradual, and do not happen overnight, which can make them hard to notice.
“You can’t be their counselor,” Borkhuis said while discussing how friends and family could support individuals struggling with eating disorders.
“You can’t be the eating police. You need to understand that it is very hard for them, but you also can’t turn a blind eye to it. You need to encourage them to get help,” Borkhuis shared.
Borkhuis explained that the top three things that everyone can do in order to support individuals with eating disorders are:
- Validate their feelings.
- Encourage them to seek out help.
- Believe in them; Believe that they can recover.
“We get so focused on what our body looks like that we don’t appreciate what it does for us,” Borkhuis stated while speaking about how students and the larger community in the Fargo-Moorhead area can help start a conversation about positive body image and help bring more awareness to eating disorders.
While we may not fully understand eating disorders, or what causes them, we are striving toward helping more individuals get the help they deserve and to change the conversation around body image.
For the Fargo-Moorhead Community, Borkhuis explained that Sanford Health has an Eating Disorder and Weight Management program that has been well established over the past twenty-five years. Along with having two of the top specialists in the world for eating disorders in Fargo who can help individuals start on the path toward recovery.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the following resources are available on campus: