“Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder,” (The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).
That’s about 23 people per day, 161 people per week, and 8,372 people per year. It’s a staggering amount of lives lost over the course of a day, let alone a week or year, for a mental illness that is commonly thought to be a “choice” for the 30 million people that are suffering across the United States.
This past week, Feb. 26 to March 4, was known as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. While it’s just an ordinary week for millions of people, it is one that offers an opportunity for many people, like myself, to raise our voices and start a necessary conversation about body image and body positivity in our weight-centric society.
As the older sister of two beautiful girls struggling with anorexia nervosa, I learned very quickly that suffering from an eating disorder is far from a choice. Living in a world so focused on calorie counts, and the number on the scale, and the size of your skinny jeans, it can be hard to remember that numbers do not measure the worth of an individual.
Humanity has grappled with the issue of body image across the ages. Americans in particular have developed a very complicated relationship with food, appearance and exercise, and how the three coexist. As different body types have gained popularity, women in particular have felt the pressure to conform to the new, enticing, and in a sense, ideal body. But, the fact of the matter is that no two bodies are the same, and therefore no two bodies can achieve the same standard of perfection.
We cannot place the blame solely on wanting the trendy body type of the times or following the diet fad of the era that an eating disorder comes to be. The nature of an eating disorder is bio-psycho-social, meaning that there is a biological predisposition to the disorder, a psychological component, and a social trigger. The three come together, creating a “perfect storm”, and thus the disorder develops. Pressures from “clean eating” diets and Instagram models contribute to the social aspect of the disorder, but in the end there are genetic and mental components that are out of a patient’s control.
As the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, it is time that we, as a nation, take responsibility for how talk about our bodies and how we talk about food. The National Eating Disorders Association is asking that we “get real” and end the stigma around eating disorders. In a time where social action is so prevalent, and fighting for inclusivity is so important, it is imperative we learn to be body inclusive, and love our bodies the way they are.
Everyone should be educated on the reality of living with an eating disorder. It is not a choice, it is not for attention. We can change the the dialogue, we can learn to love ourselves, and we can fight for those 30 million Americans struggling everyday to love and accept their bodies and their being.
One person every 62 minutes is one person too many. Let’s start a national journey towards healing, rewriting the body image narrative to love and accept our bodies as they are. Because you are you, and that is enough.