Why Eating Disorders Awareness Initiatives Are Crucial

By Sophie Balisky, Silver Linings volunteer

When you bring up the subject of mental health, you are likely going to be met with a variety of reactions. Raising this topic still makes some uncomfortable, afraid of “saying the wrong thing,” for example, which can translate into not saying anything at all. This is doubly (or triply) the case with eating disorders, despite that these mental illnesses are as prevalent as they are detrimental, affecting over one million Canadians. Nonetheless, Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which just concluded on February 7, reminds us that it is so important to talk about eating disorders because:

1). Eating disorders are misunderstood. Public knowledge of eating disorders is limited and often based on false assumptions. For example, an eating disorder is NOT:

  • A choice based on vanity

  • Only experienced by certain genders, ages, races or backgrounds

  • Only characterized by low body weight

  • Cured by “just eating something”

  • Glamorous or desirable, in any way.

These common misconceptions oversimplify eating disorders and distract from the complex and potentially fatal mental illnesses that they are. Awareness initiatives are essential to address mistaken beliefs, develop accurate understanding of eating disorders and encourage intervention for those suffering, because sadly...

2). Eating disorders are often overlooked. These mental illnesses are tricky and deceptive. Only 1 in every 10 individuals with an eating disorder is diagnosed. There is no one face” of an eating disorder; the illness can present in multiple forms and be caused by multiple factors. And therefore the need for help can go unnoticed by friends, family, and the sufferer themselves. In addition, a disordered relationship with food can easily be hidden behind socially acceptable diet culture and terminology, such as “clean eating” or “portion control.” Awareness is extremely important in order to help recognize the signs of an eating disorder early, because for everyone involved...

3). Eating disorders are devastating. It’s hard to accurately articulate the magnitude of pain an eating disorder is capable of inflicting, both for an individual and their loved ones. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with the main causes of death being suicide and organ failure. One in every 10 individuals with an eating disorder will die from their illness. Eating disorders steal health, energy, joy, freedom, personality and hope from an individual and those trying to support them. Treatment and therapy options are not simple. Food and weight preoccupation is only a symptom of an eating disorder’s deep, emotional roots. In reality, the illness is an unhealthy coping mechanism that can become dangerously entangled with one’s identity. Awareness spreads knowledge of eating disorders’ severity, shining light on the true nature of the illness. This is extremely important considering that…

4). Eating disorders thrive on secrecy. An eating disorder is an isolating illness, creating a cruel confinement for those affected. Eating disorders are insidious in the sense that an emotional dependency is formed between an individual and the illness. This makes an eating disorder a toxic, but comforting “friend” and often a well kept secret. An individual will attempt to conceal their illness out of fear of losing the control and reassurance it gives to them. Eating disorders use shame to their full advantage. An individual with an eating disorder often feels embarrassed and afraid to speak out about their struggles. Eating disorders create an illusion of isolation, where those affected may believe that no one else can understand or relate. Awareness is vital to encouraging those who are impacted to reach out for help. Breaking the silence of the illness is the first step towards loosening its grasp. Speaking openly about eating disorders gradually lessens the stigma surrounding these mental illnesses, giving others the courage to be vulnerable and, above all, provides proof that...

5. Eating disorders can be overcome. Eating disorders breed hopelessness. They sabotage an individual’s mental landscape and outlook. Raising awareness is incredibly important to illuminate the fact that full recovery IS POSSIBLE. What can help? Storytelling from survivors, links to resources, access to available support, and simply feeling seen, all contribute to restoring hope. For many, a small glimmer of light in the midst of an eating disorder’s heavy shadow is all it takes to ease the grip of the illness. Eating disorder awareness provides proof that not only is recovery possible, but it’s so worth it!

Statistics from http://nedic.ca