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Stigmas surrounding eating disorders and gender

Sarah Hyatt, Entertainment Editor

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Eating disorders are a mental illness, which can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, color, culture, or weight. The illness is possessive, protrusive, and almost impossible to completely eradicate from the mind. 

Recently, a male guest writer for Huffington Post, Zach Schermele, described his struggle of living with an eating disorder, stating, “I have struggled with food and body image all my life.” He explains his journey, his actions to battle his anorexia, as well as when he realized what he was doing. Schermele gives a brief description of his life before treatment, his recovery process with intensive outpatient therapy, and experiences with counselors. 

Coming to terms with having an eating disorder can be the lowest and highest point of the illness. The victim can realize the damage they have done to their body, and hopefully work towards change. Schermele continued, “-my parents and I were once again arguing about my treatment plan. Before I could stop it, an outrageous thought passed through my mind ― ‘I would rather die than feel fat.’ In that moment, it finally became clear to me that my parents were right.” (huffingtonpost.com/entry/teenage-boy-eating-disorder-anorexia) 

What is an eating disorder? 

An eating disorder can be a wide range of psychological disorders characterized by self-body image and an unhealthy focus on eating habits. There are many forms of eating disorders, and not all are just about losing weight. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness of a person’s eating behaviors. Other common eating disorders include bulimia, a form of bingeing followed by purging, binge eating, involving nonstop large consumptions of food, and orthorexia, an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy clean foods. (nimh.nih.gov)  

 

What is anorexia? 

Anorexia is most often referred to as an eating disorder indicated by purposeful weight loss, a distorted perception of body weight, as well as unhealthy dieting and exercise patterns. This is a serious psychological disorder, and if not treated in early stages it can be potentially life threatening. Anorexia has the highest death rate of all mental illnesses and is the largest eating disorder. (eatingdisorderhope.com)  

So why the stigma? Eating disorders seem to direct towards the social standards of women ‘watching what they eat’, as well as maintaining their slim figure to appeal more towards men. “Changes to the United States diagnostic system will hopefully begin to challenge these beliefs” (eatingdisorderhope.com). But in fact, there are many articles on males living with an eating disorder, a peak into a prominent issue. The growing support and acceptance of those dealing with mental illnesses has surfaced through social media. 

Author Lois Metzger wrote A Trick of the Light, a novel based around a 15-year-old boy’s eating disorder controlling his thoughts, the narrator being his eating disorders obtrusive voice. The novel is described by Google Books as, “Telling a story of a rarely recognized segment of eating disorder sufferers—young men—.” In an interview with NEDA (nationaleatingdisorder.org), Metzger stated “about ten years ago, I got intensely interested in the complex world of eating disorders after reading a newspaper article about a teenage boy with anorexia—which shocked me, because I’d had no idea boys or men could even get eating disorders.”  

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) made a YouTube video back in 2016 on Charles, a 17-year-old boy recovering from anorexia. The video, “Anorexia; A Boy in a Girls World”starts off immediately with, “This is Charles, he’s seventeen and he has what many people call, a girl’s illness.” The video shows how the clinic catered to Charles being the only male patient, including being kept in a separate ward of the recovery hospital alone to sleep.   

The real issue with the stigma surrounding diversity through eating disorders can be a dangerous misconception. “Bringing about the understanding that any person can suffer from this disease is critical to encouraging those struggling with eating disorders to engage in help-seeking behaviors and access professional care” (mirror-mirror.org) 

If you feel as though you or someone you know is affected by any of these conditions, please contact these resources to learn more about treating an eating disorder. 

 

Hotline Numbers: 

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Helpline, 1-800-931-2237 

Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) Hotline, 1-630-577-1130 

National Mental Health Association Helpline, 1-800-969-6642 

Mental Health America Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255 

 

Local Resources: 

-The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders 

Towson, MD · (800) 736-3739 

-Eating Disorder Treatment Center 

Columbia, MD · (877) 674-2843 

-The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt 

Towson, MD · (410) 938-5252

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