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Eating Disorders Among Minorities

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:

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.

Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26)

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

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Eating Disorders -- RCC

The Allure of Eating Disorders: Perfection and Shame

Some people may find this surprising, but eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia can provide individuals with a sense of purpose. They are on a mission to remake themselves and finally become happy. People suffering from an eating disorder will have an inner voice that tells them that they will be happy if they can just lose the weight. This same voice tells a person with anorexia or bulimia that their worth is primarily measured by how they physically look.

People suffering from diseases like anorexia may actually have a sense of uniqueness. As they grapple with hunger pains and thoughts that excessively focus on food, exercise and their body. They become numb to other things in their life. Eating disorders can create an anesthetic-like effect on people. When their body is perfect, they will be happy. There is simply no escape from this mission.

However, this is an illusion. For people, happiness and positive self-esteem arise from accepting and loving themselves as they are in the present. Another crucial piece for a successful recovery is for individuals to have access to love and support. In this way, people can start to understand that their eating disorder was not by choice. Yet, seeking treatment is not always an option for some people. Sadly, there is still a societal stigma towards mental health.

Due to this stigma, and feelings of shame, people may choose to struggle with their eating disorder alone. However, they should understand that there is no shame in having a diagnosed eating disorder. Perceived feelings of shame for having an eating disorder is a poor reason for not seeking professional help. But, these feelings of shame and fear create additional medical complications and high mortality rates for individuals struggling with an eating disorder.

Among the youth and college students, eating disorders are particularly a problem. There is a movement to educate students, as well as the youth in general, about body positivity and the dangers of untreated eating disorders. The goal is for young people to accept that all body shapes and sizes are beautiful. For example, in Northern Ohio, Youngstown State University (YSU) spreads awareness about the dangers of eating disorders by hosting a student fashion show. The show is titled the EveryBODY Fashion Show – Awareness of Eating Disorder Fashion Show and is held to showcase and celebrate all body types. The show is held in honor of a former YSU student (Danielle Peters) from the fashion merchandising program. In 2012, this student died due to complications from an eating disorder. In addition, some students take part in the National Eating Disorders Association Walk at the Cleveland Zoo to raise money for the organization.

Beyond raising awareness, people’s relationship with dieting, body weight and their sense of themselves are complex. People who suffer from eating disorders state that they still feel uncomfortable in their own skin, even after losing a substantial amount of weight. Hopefully, these individuals realize that they are chasing the illusion of perfection and start to understand that it is not possible to “diet” oneself to happiness. There are deeper issues and insecurities at work.

It is possible to fully recover from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. However, when a person is alone, it may feel like there is no escape from the obsessive thoughts about food and body weight. A trained healthcare professional can guide and support people as they come to terms with their perceptions and thoughts. Research shows that without proper treatment and professional assistance, the prospects for a full recovery are greatly diminished. In this case, a do it on your own approach is not the best choice.

Recovery from eating disorders can be elusive and challenging. After recovery, individuals may continue to experience mild, moderate or even severe symptoms. What is important is that people maintain an optimistic outlook. People with chronic and debilitating eating disorders can make a full recovery. With the right professional guidance and the proper level of care, it is possible for people to learn to deal with life without the nagging inner voice of an eating disorder.

Contact the friendly staff at River Centre Clinic (RCC) for additional information or questions about eating disorder treatments. Their experienced staff and nationally recognized programs provide patients with a full range of treatment options. The River Centre Clinic is located in the beautiful Sylvania, Ohio.

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Eating Disorders, College Students, Shame, Anorexia, Bulimia

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