Are there links between body image, physical activity and eating disorders? Stories and research from decades ago have shown that competitive sports can encourage the development of eating disorders. In the 1990’s, Sports Illustrated articles openly discussed the deadly impact of anorexia on women athletes. Yet, roughly twenty years later, this problem still exists in U.S. culture. Today the National Eating Disorder Association reports that over one-third of Division 1 NCAA athletes have symptoms that place them at risk for anorexia. Most people think that only female athletes are at risk for an eating disorder, however, male athletes are also at risk—especially those participating in sports where diet, appearance, size, and weight are of importance such as wrestling, bodybuilding, crew, and running. (more…)
Social media is a popular tool for communication and entertainment. Few people would question the fact that people are spending an increasing amount of time on these new media platforms. In recent years, social media has become much more visual in presentation and layout. However, it is the evolution of the technology used to manipulate and alter images that have researchers concerned. (more…)
When the term eating disorder is mentioned, there is usually a specific mental image that comes to mind. Traditionally, the stereotypical person with this type of mental health issue is a young, wealthier Caucasian female. Mass media and pop culture images usually reinforce the portrayal of hyper-thin, white women who are suffering from the effects of conditions like anorexia nervosa. However, this stereotype that eating disorders only inflect younger, white women is not correct.
Eating disorders are usually placed into four overall categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). Other mental health issues are also commonly assisted with these eating disorders such as general anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, bipolar disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The American Psychiatric Association defines an eating disorder as an illness where people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors. They also have problems related to the regulation of thoughts and emotions, usually becoming obsessed with food consumption and their body weight. The prevalence of reported eating disorders, with the exception of anorexia nervosa, is similar among Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian Americans in the United States.
Decades ago, American societal portrayals of eating disorders were almost always shown as a white-woman problem. Shockingly, this misconception was also maintained by physicians and other healthcare professionals.
For example, behavioral health research from 2006 challenged the notion that African-American women were less likely to develop eating disorders. In this study, healthcare providers read 1 of 3 passages describing disturbed eating patterns of a fictional patient named Mary. The only differences between the passages were that the patient’s race, which was randomly changed for each provider. This meant that every fictional patient’s symptoms were identical, with only the person’s race randomly rotating between African-American, Caucasian, or Hispanic.
Healthcare professionals were then asked to diagnosis the patient’s level of depression, anxiety as well as whether an eating disorder might exist. In cases of a white racial profile, the eating behavior was considered problematic 44% of the time. For Hispanic profiles, the behavior was considered problematic in 41% of the cases. Surprisingly, when the patient was identified as African American, the eating behavior was identified as problematic in only 17% of the cases. The study’s final results suggested that healthcare clinicians appear to hold race-based stereotypes about eating disorders that could limit their detection of symptoms in African-American girls.
The results of the 2006 study reinforced earlier research from 2002 which found that the race of adolescent girls had a significant impact on the detection of disturbed eating patterns. In this study, undergraduate college students recognized the existence of an eating disorder more often when they read about a Caucasian female, rather than when they read about a minority female (Hispanic or African American) with the same behavior.
National statistics indicate that eating disorders predominantly occur in white females, but many eating disorder professionals increasingly believe that the data is skewed. Women of color have likely been alienated from personal support networks. In addition, healthcare professionals use to believe that African-American and Hispanic women were somehow more immune to eating disorders.
Until recently, people with an African American racial identify were underrepresented in treatment centers and research studies about eating disorders. Gathering quality data was more of a challenge due to societal misperceptions and prejudice. Now it is clear that perceptions of body image and disordered eating patterns are not just problems for young, white women.
Here is some additional information on eating disorders and minorities:
- Individuals of Hispanic descent were more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa versus their non-Hispanic peers.
- Studies and news reports have found elevated rates of anorexia and other eating disorders among teenage girls in Orthodox Jewish communities.
- People of color with self-acknowledged eating and weight concerns were less likely than white participants to have been asked by healthcare providers about eating disorder symptoms, despite similar rates of eating disorder symptoms across ethnic groups.
- For American Indian/Native American, a significantly higher percentage of women reported disordered eating behaviors.
It is clear that eating disorders do not only occur in certain racial or socioeconomic groups. Race, ethnicity and/or socioeconomic status does not make individuals immune to these health conditions. In the past, eating disorders were primarily associated with heterosexual, young, white females. In fact, these mental health issues affect people from all demographics and ethnicities at similar rates. However, minority groups (particularly African Americans) are significantly less likely to receive help for eating disorder problems.
Regardless of one’s racial or ethnic identity, treating and recovering from an eating disorder takes time as well as professional help. An experienced mental health professional can help a person understand the origins of this behavior, whether it is an eating disorder as well as acquire coping skills.
For additional information or questions about this topic, please contact the staff at River Centre Clinic (RCC). Their Eating Disorders Programs provide a full range of treatment options for both adolescents and adults. The River Centre Clinic’s main phone number is 1.877.212.5457.
The EAT-26 is the most widely cited standardized self-report screening measure that may be able to help you determine if you have an eating disorder that needs professional attention. Take the EAT-26 now and get immediate and anonymous feedback.
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Eating Disorders, Minorities
Contributor: ABCS RCM
The topic of girls and women’s perception of their bodies, as well as how this topic is portrayed by the society, has long been a subject of discussion. An individual’s perception of her (or his) body has long played a critical role in understanding how to treat eating disorders. Much of this understanding is increasingly looking at the role of media and societal pressures on people’s perceptions. Popular media and the fashion industry appear to actually encourage a culture of fat-shaming and weight stigma. This history of shame and stigma has created devastating consequences.
Low Body Esteem:
According to studies performed by the Dove (Unilever Corporation), feelings of low body esteem impact the majority of both women and girls. The report states that 85% of women and 79% of girls say that they purposely skip major life activities and events due to the fact that they do not feel good about the way they look. Shockingly, 69% of Women and 65% of girls state that pressure from advertising and mass media pushes them to reach an unrealistic standard of beauty. On a worldwide scale, the report states that out of the 13 countries in the study, Japan ranked lowest, with only 8% body confidence among respondents, followed by the UK and Canada at 20%, the US at 24%, and South Africa topping the list at a modest 64% of women who feel confident in their bodies.
The Body Positivity Movement:
Reports like these have inspired a growing empowerment trend known as body positivity movement. This movement is quickly gaining popularity on the internet and in mass media. The concept of body positivity evolved as a way to counteract feelings of poor body image in society at large. Generally, body positivity asserts that all bodies are good bodies. How people’s bodies physically appear should not determine their worth as a person. “In Western society, this idea fights against long-held valuations of physical appearance, primarily as portrayed (or conspicuously not portrayed) in the media. Body positivity proponents across social media, therefore, seek to make diverse body types more visible, partly as a reminder to rethink our cultural conceptions of what it means to be beautiful, and that such concepts are not fixed.”
Fat Shaming as Entertainment:
Whether the body positivity movement able to create permeant societal change is still unclear. The entertainment industry still produces shows that seem to send the opposite message. For example, for the last few months controversy has been swirling around the new Netflix show Insatiable. Described as a dark comedy set in the Southern world of beauty pageants, the show is labeled as a “coming of rage” story. The series follows the actions of a vengeful teenager who was called “Fatty Patty” by school bullies. However, this character loses a substantial amount of weight, after having her jaw wired shut; and then teams up with a disgraced pageant coach in order to seek revenge against the people who once tormented her. The show’s creator argues that the Netflix series draws from her own experiences dealing with bullies and an eating disorder while growing up in the suburbs. Critics have called the show “an offensive mess,” “almost unwatchable” and “obscenely cruel” for perceived fat shaming.
One of the actors from the series, Alyssa Milano, defended the series arguing that the show is not engaging in fat-shaming behavior. “We are addressing (through comedy) the damage that occurs from fat shaming.” Milano explains that she hopes the show is a conversation starter, since the series explores body images issues, rather than sweeping it “under the carpet.” Insatiable’s main star Debby Ryan agreed with Milano and argues that the subject matter is difficult, but she hopes that the show serves a purpose by “stirring conversation” about fat shaming and low body esteem.
Critics of the show have not agreed with Ryan and Milano’s analysis. As of August 31st, 2018, a Change.org petition has garnered more than 200,000 signatures to have the show canceled. The originators of the petition state that the shows central plot is not an isolated case, but part of a much larger problem every single woman has faced in her life. The Netflix series “perpetuates not only the toxicity of diet culture but the objectification of women’s bodies.”
Other critics have agreed with this analysis and have called the show dangerous. Behavioral health professionals have noted that the U.S. society has made significant improvements in advancing the body positivity movement. However, fat-shaming and body weight stigmas are still a problem. Netflix’s show Insatiable only proves there’s still a lot about the way body image is portrayed in the media that needs to improve. The show’s core premise displays a plotline that is based on some ugly body image ideas. Body Positivity activists have pointed out that series shows that “a fat girl could never stand up for herself while fat and of course she has to be assaulted and have her mouth wired shut before she becomes her best self, her skinny self.” Other news sources have raised the question that perhaps the series is just misunderstood.
Whether the show is deemed offensive or is actually secretly progressive, the judgment that people feel about their physical appearance will continue. As a social trend and topic of conversation, River Centre Clinic will monitor this story as it unfolds. Our trained staff understands the complexity and sensitivity surrounding these issues. For additional questions or comments about this or other related topics – please contact us.
The River Centre Clinic’s primary purpose is to provide high quality, cost-effective, specialized care for patients with eating disorders in a state-of-the-art treatment environment. The clinic follows a treatment philosophy designed to provide an affordable treatment alternative to inpatient care. Our innovative approach to treatment is designed to reduce costs without compromising our high quality of care. The River Centre Clinic provides state-of-the-art treatment located in a modern, spacious and tranquil setting in Sylvania, Ohio — an historic suburb of Toledo, Ohio. The facility was designed to provide an attractive, and safe alternative to hospital or hospital-based programs. Living facilities are located in the main building to comfortably accommodate adults and adolescents in separate units.
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Body positivity, Body Image, Weight Stigma, Low Body Esteem
According to research from Harvard Medical School, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, afflict more than 30 million Americans, while millions more experience disordered eating and weight control behaviors. This statistic is even more sobering when one considers the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in the United States. Numbers like these have real consequences on people’s health and overall quality of life. Often people are trapped in a vicious cycle of weight gain and severe dieting. In many instances, dieting does not produce permanent weight loss. Instead, it creates an unhealthy diet cycle where a person’s body weight quickly cycles up and down. What is needed is a holistic understanding of health that does not stigmatize body weight. People should focus on healthy behaviors and physical well-being instead of body weight.
The central idea behind the act of dieting tends to create problems. Extreme diets can actually damage people’s metabolism as well as their mental perception of food and eating. This means that individuals can end up in a worse place versus when they started the diet. The diet cycle can start here, with people’s weight gain and loss having a yo-yo appearance. The rise and fall of body weight creates the appearance that people are actually at war with their food (and weight). What is more beneficial for people is an active and healthy lifestyle, as well as an acceptance of their physical appearance and body weight.
When people are informed that they are overweight, there are unintended consequences. This information can reduce people’s satisfaction with their body and create other negative emotions and behavior. This is due to the fact that modern society tends to reinforce the message that “thin” is beautiful and good. People who struggle with their weight tend to also have lower self-esteem. The stigma of being overweight can help to set up a cycle for additional weight gain or the development of eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia. Individuals at all body weights often respond to stress and anxiety by eating. This emotional-induced eating will likely only encourage more weight gain. An increase in body weight can create a feeling of lower self-esteem and anxiety in a person. People quickly become trapped in an unhealthy feed back loop of weight gain and dieting.
More has to be done in order to make it safe to be a larger-bodied person. Most eating disorders are often accompanied by trauma, but body shaming and fat loathing only make these diseases worse. Actions from the fashion and food industry, as well as pop culture, almost seem to encourage eating disorders. However, attempts have been made to address the issues surrounding perceptions of physical imperfections, body weight and fat shaming. A few examples from fashion and marketing are from lingerie retailer Aerie and the increasing popularity of plus-size models. Since 2014, the ad campaigns of lingerie retailer Aerie (American Eagle) reportedly uses non-airbrushed photos of women of various body shapes and colors. Successful Fashion designer Chris Siriano has stated that there have “always been customers of different sizes since day one.” Currently, one half of Siriano’s fashion collection is made in extended sizes. These are positive steps in the right direction, but body weight fears and stigma surrounding fat is still a common occurrence.
For additional questions about the connection between body image, body weight and the diet cycle, contact the staff at River Centre Clinic. Their programs provide a full range of treatment options for children and adults with a primary diagnosis of an eating disorder. For immediate and confidential feedback, take River Centre Clinic’s EAT-26 (Eating Attitudes Test) assessment.
Follow us on Twitter: @River_Centre
Body Weight, Diet Cycle