Fatties will be fatties, right? Pointing out an observable fact never hurt anyone. Except it does. The major mental health plague of our generation is eating disorders: a little understood, hardly talked about, and seriously dangerous class of disorder. More often than not, eating disorders are perpetuated by bullies.
What most people don’t realize is eating disorders are like thumb prints, no two are the same. There is a large spectrum of eating disorders. Disorders range from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, body dysmorphic disorder, and obesity. More often than not, those with eating conditions have a complex combination of additional disorders.
The cause, effects, recovery times, conditions, and intensities are all too complex to fit in one story. In order to try to understand the complexity of eating disorders, you need to hear from the people that have been afflicted. Below are two stories from people who have/had an eating disorder. The sources are anonymous as per their request.
“My eating disorder is hard to compress into a digestible story. Over the span of three years, the throwing up, the starving–it became less a part of a scheme to have a better body and more of a complex addition to my personality. I would say the stage of my disorder in which I starved myself for my image stopped when the feeling of hunger became an addiction. That’s when it got scary.
By the time I went into 10th grade, I weighed 73 pounds (33 kg). The disorder consumed every part of my day. I would go into the bathrooms and thumb my rib bones–as if I was afraid they would disappear under skin or fat. The feeling of hunger was the most satisfying; it was a high. That is the part of my disorder I have the most problem explaining. Who would possibly understand me if I said: ‘I’m addicted to feeling hungry’?
My problem has developed, as most eating and body-image problems do. The first year of my disorder I would starve myself. Count every calorie as succumbing: a battle lost. The second, I started throwing up too. I threw up at school, at home, out with friends after dinner. The weirdest thing is, I wasn’t bullied into an eating disorder. I was bullied when people started to notice I had one. People would gossip about my weight loss as if it was some conversation piece. This worsened the condition and made me feel as if every lunch was me against them. Every bite was watched under the hawkeye of other girls.
Most people don’t realize recovery is not a perscription. Recovery for an eating disorder has to come within the person with the disorder themselves. I have fluctuated in and out of the pattern that is starving myself. The voice that is my disorder is haunting, and it reminds me every day how much more beautiful I would be with ribs and hipbones.” – (Anonymous student)
The first anecdote offers the perspective that bullying takes many forms. Instead of being bullied into conforming to a desired body type, bullying instead came from the reaction to a little understood malady. But as previously said, not everyone’s story is the same.
The Huffington post reports, “the rising link between bullying and eating disorders is due to the fact that young children are more susceptible to having a negative self-esteem as a result of bullying.” In the first story, it is easy to see how this generalization is true. The second story has the same backbone as the first: both have a serious affliction. However, it offers a different perspective on recovery.
“It all began when I had just moved to a new city. Moving at such a crucial time was tough, as I had to enter possibly the most vicious and catty time of any girl’s life: middle school. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was tall and tan while everyone else seemed to be significantly different and they didn’t need another member in their friendship circles.
Soon enough I was trying my hardest to find a group of friends, but when that didn’t happen, I realized I had no control over anything anymore. The pressure and that coupled with the stress of being in a new school at that angst-ridden age was just too much. I turned to food as it was the only thing I felt I had complete control over; that’s when things spiraled out of control.
What started out as cutting back on the guilty treats became an obsession. When I do something, I do it with 100% effort and this was no exception. Weight fell off my already slim body and I morphed into a different person; fatigued, fidgety, and perpetually on edge. My mind was distorted and I couldn’t concentrate on a single thing except the next meal I could skip or the next time I could burn off the single slice of apple. My life was spiraling out of control which was ironic since I felt like I had control over at least one aspect of my life.
When my heart rate plummeted to dangerous levels, I knew that this wasn’t the life I wanted to lead. The world is so big and there is so much for me do I just couldn’t let this horrible disease consume me. I told my parents that I was scared for myself and that I was ready to seek treatment and recover. This disease just wasn’t worth it and I wanted to become the person I had always been.
Six years later, I’m happier than I have ever been. Anorexia was simply a phase in my life. It’s a selfish disease. Just seeing the sheer torture that my friends and family were going through in the hopes of making me eat a single morsel of food was heart-wrenching and made me realize that this wasn’t me acting; it was the disease.” – (Anonymous student)
Eating disorders are a slippery slope. Some start as a pressure to conform to what others expect you to be. Some begin because a bully gets gratification from displacing hate towards those who are most susceptible. From this point, disorders often become solace, a way to exercise control, or even a “friend.”
On the topic of trying to understand disorders, the National Institute for Mental Health reports, “Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. But many questions still need answers.”
What we can do as a community is admit what we can’t understand. Show compassion or offer assistance to anyone you might suspect is suffering from an eating disorder. If necessary, report the incident to the school psychologist or an adult. In honor of Bullying Awareness Week here at school, stand up to bullying in all shapes and forms. Whether it’s someone making fun of another’s weight or gossip over the girl who dropped a dramatic amount of weight, take a stand.
SAS takes bullying very seriously. This story was part of our school-sponsored Anti-Bullying Awareness Week, where we try to bring to light issues related to bullying that many schools try to keep in the dark. We believe that the more we talk about it, the less we’ll have to talk about.
If you’re being bullied or know someone who is, there are steps you can take today:
1) Talk to an adult. Your counselor or a teacher you trust is a good place to start. All of the adults at SAS will totally support you and help you figure out the next steps to take. You do not have to deal with this alone.
2) Surround yourself with people who care about you. Their genuine appreciation for you will help to neutralize the bully’s hateful words.
3) Stop giving energy to what they say. If they don’t get a reaction, they will lose interest.
You can also visit reachout.com to learn about more strategies.
More helpful links:
Spoken word poetry: “5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder” – Warning: profanity