Challenging Eating Disorder Stereotypes
This year’s theme for nutrition month is “Good for you - dietitians help you find your healthy”. It highlights how the media and traditional dietetics has led society to develop a standard image of what “healthy eating” should look like for everyone. One way that it is pushing for a more inclusive approach to nutrition is by challenging stereotypes such as those associated with eating disorders. When most people think of eating disorders, they picture a Caucasian teenage girl. However, eating disorders affect people across all demographics, and minorities are less likely to receive treatment (1). Research also suggests a higher rate of binge eating disorder in all minority groups (2).
People of Colour
People of colour are vulnerable to eating disorders in part due to lack of representation in media —which leads to body dissatisfaction —and greater exposure to traumas such as abuse, racism, and poverty. In addition, people of colour do not fit the stereotypical image for eating disorders, so they are less likely to be diagnosed by a clinician (1). Clinicians are also less likely to recommend that they receive professional help (1).
The challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community are very similar to the challenges that people of colour face. They too deal with lack of representation, traumas, and stigma for not fitting the eating disorder stereotype. Many people in the LGBTQ+ community experience body dissatisfaction and studies found that 42% of males with eating disorders identified as gay (3).
Even though 1 in 3 people with eating disorders are men, there is still a strong cultural bias against males having eating disorders (4). Men also struggle with the cultural bias that seeking help for mental illnesses is feminine or gay (5). As a result, males are less likely to be diagnosed with eating disorders and are less likely to seek help (5). Since early intervention is critical for recovery from an eating disorder, the risk of mortality for males is significantly higher than it is for females (6).
Research shows that rates of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction in mid-life and older ages are rising (7). Older people experience factors such as stigma, family/work responsibilities and stress, which may worsen their condition or prevent them from seeking help. Disordered eating in older people is particularly serious because older bodies experience more harm from eating disorders and recovery is more difficult (8).
How Can We Change This?
Common themes among these minority groups include stigma and negative body image caused by a lack of representation in the media. If we wish for dietetics to be more inclusive, we must all challenge these stereotypes and demand equal representation in the media. There is a need for greater diversity among practitioners, and education on treating eating disorders among minorities should be readily accessible to all professionals.
Becker, A. E., Franko, D. L., Speck, A., & Herzog, D. B. (2003). Ethnicity and differential access to care for eating disorder symptoms. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 205-212. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.10129
Swanson, S. A. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7), 714. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.22
National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 21). Eating disorders in LGBTQ+ populations. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/lgbtq
Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348-358. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040
National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 26). Eating disorders in men & boys. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males
Raevuori, A., Keski-Rahkonen, A., & Hoek, H. W. (2014). A review of eating disorders in males. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 27(6), 426-430. https://doi.org/10.1097/yco.0000000000000113
Zhao, Y., & Encinosa, W. (2011, September). HCUP Statistical Brief #120: Update on Hospitalizations for Eating Disorders, 1999 to 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville. https://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb120.pdf
National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 21). Eating disorders in mid-life & beyond.https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorders-mid-life-beyond