"Oh she's definitely anorexic... I can spot it from a mile away."
I didn't mean to overhear the chattery redhead and her friend as I was primping in a bar restroom the other night, but as most ladies' room experiences go, I was bound to hear the gossip humming about the sink.
Her words made me tense. You cannot "spot" an eating disorder no matter how close or how far away you are from someone. You cannot "spot" an eating disorder no matter how well you think you know someone's habits or lifestyle choices. Because no matter what you know or what you think you know, you cannot "spot" an eating disorder at all, period.
Eating disorders are much more than a catch-all term for someone who looks thin or for someone who watches their diet. Eating disorders are deadly.
But aside from the fact that eating disorders are detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of those who suffer from the disease, eating disorders are not selective or choosey in who they affect.
Eating disorders affect men and women— whites, blacks, hispanics, asians, indians, children, teenagers and adults; People who are overweight and underweight and people from all different socio and economic backgrounds. In short, there is no face to an eating disorder.
You cannot "spot" them by physical appearance alone.
Not only do eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness, the stigma that surrounds them is just as problematic as the disease itself. Many people who suffer with eating disorders struggle to get help because they don't "look" like they have an eating disorder. They don't fit into the mold that popular culture has led us to believe is the only face of eating disorders. No two eating disorders are alike. No two people with an eating disorder will look alike. There is no one size fits all body or demographic of those who suffer from eating disorders.
But many people still believe that eating disorders can only affect a certain type of person or that they fit into a certain mold. People judge someone's eating habits and behaviors on whether or not they "look" a certain way. You can never know or make assumptions about someone's mental health based on looks alone.
Eating disorders cause severe alterations in behavior and completely change a person's relationship with food as well as with others. Even long after recovery, those who have suffered with an eating disorder can struggle to ever feel "normal" about food or the way they feel about themselves.
When you decide to categorize and make assumptions about what someone with an eating disorder looks like, stop. Not everyone who suffers from an eating disorder looks a certain way. By judging and limiting your idea of what an eating disorder looks like to only a certain type of person, you make it so much harder for someone outside of that mold to get the help that they desperately need.
If you have an opinion about the way someone looks, keep it to yourself. But if you genuinely care about them, talk to them and see if they really need help.
Pay close attention to your friends' and loved ones' behavior. Trigger and warning signs can include: weight loss or gain, obsession with food or weight, low self-esteem, restricting foods or meals, refusal to eat certain foods, comments about feeling "fat," anxiety, denial of hunger, secretive food rituals, excessive or rigid exercise regimens, withdrawal from usual friends and activities and a general change of behavior.
Eating disorders cannot be spotted or scene by a glance from across the bar. You do not get to judge someone's mental and physical well-being with a single glance. Before you think you can "spot" an eating disorder, think again.
If you are someone who suffers from an eating disorder know that you are never alone. You do not have to go through the negative feelings that you go through every single day. It's not worth it. Please, tell your best friend, your mom, tell someone. You can call the National Eating Disorder Association: 1-800-931-2237 or chat online and start getting help.
There is no shame in getting the help that you deserve and need. You are worth it.