As they remain a pressing concern, eating disorders must be destigmatized


By Alyse Kaminski | Staff Columnist 

When I got a call late this summer from my best friend saying that she had been diagnosed with an eating disorder, the world came to a halt.

How hadn’t I known? I thought as her best friend, things like this would be obvious to me. Turns out, they’re not.

So, this semester my roommate and best pal, Abby Zornow, stayed home from Duquesne and worked on regaining her physical and mental health. I could not be more proud of the strength she has shown me over the past three months and I wanted to share her story. From a recent talk with her, I learned so much about the truth, misconceptions, social pressures and stigma behind eating disorders.

It’s important for people to realize what eating disorders can look like.

“People think that people with eating disorders look sick and bone thin. That stigmatizes it in the sense that people think anorexia is someone who is pale and thin and bruising and dying, which is very untrue,” Zornow said.

There’s a misconception that people with disordered eating have a specific body type. It worried Zornow that if people knew what she was going through, they would look at her as though she looked physically and mentally frail, which is the absolute last thing she is.

Zornow came to the realization that although her eating disorder affected her physically, it was more so her mental health that needed attention, something else that has its own stigmatization.

“It’s a matter of mental health, but as I’ve gone through treatment I’ve realized that people want to help you, and they want to see you to the end,” Zornow said.

I’ll always stand behind the belief that mental health, as well as eating disorders, needs to be talked about. As soon as people get comfortable talking about topics that make them uncomfortable, we’ll realize that a lot of us go through similar things on one level or another.

I also think that a stigma surrounding eating disorders is that it’s a choice, but it absolutely is not. There are so many environmental and even genetic factors that go into this. It has been scientifically proven that 40 to 60 percent of the risk for eating disorders is due to genetic factors.

Not only this but, our culture promotes women having a specific body type. “In general, the culture is that celebrities are thin and models are super thin. There is this picture of what the perfect woman looks like. I think that young girls see that from a young age and it’s programmed into their minds,” said Zornow.

A study from Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales found that 30 minutes on Instagram can “make women fixate negatively on their weight and appearance.” They analyzed 350 American and Australian women.

When we scroll through Instagram, it’s guaranteed we will see two things: extremely skinny models and a new dietary and exercise craze that cannot be healthy, like the Keto Diet.

“We have a diet culture and an exercise culture. There is a very thin line between healthy habits and disordered habits and that gets blurred because of our culture,” Zornow said.

It is important to stress, though, that it’s not just women who have eating disorders. I think there are more social influences for women, but there are some for men, too. It is very normal to see men struggling with them as well. Abby told me that in her group, she saw younger boys and men getting the same treatment that she was.

Eating disorders in college, both among men and women, are common. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 to 20 percent of girls and 4 to 10 percent of boys in college have some form of an eating disorder. It may not sound like a lot, but it’s definitely something to think about the next time you say to yourself, “It would never happen to one of my friends.”

Always look out for your loved ones.

Abby’s experience taught me a lot about eating disorders. I can’t really say I ever thought about them before, but now I feel like they need to be talked about. The same goes for overall body image and positivity. I am not the first girl to stand in front of the mirror just wishing my body was different, and I will not be the last. However, by normalizing conversations about things like body image and eating disorders, everyone will feel more comfortable with themselves.

I cannot end this piece without bragging about my best friend. These last few months have shown me her true colors and even in her dark times, she remains bright. Her strength and determination to get back to her healthy self has been one of the most inspiring things I ever seen. She epitomizes this idea that eating disorders, or any mental or physical illness, do not make one weak.

If she could say one thing to herself five years ago it would be this: “Don’t let what other people think influence you. You are an intelligent, kind and amazing individual. Beauty on the outside doesn’t matter as much as beauty on the inside. You don’t need to be anyone else to be beautiful.”

And if that doesn’t scream that things will get better, I don’t know what will.