Breaking the Silence on Eating Disorders in Larger Bodies and the Black Community - Beautiful Eats & Things

Breaking the Silence on Eating Disorders in Larger Bodies and the Black Community

In a world that often prioritizes thinness as the epitome of health and beauty, individuals in larger bodies face unique challenges, particularly when it comes to the detection and recognition of eating disorders. Furthermore, within the Black community, the conversation surrounding eating disorders remains hidden and often addressed in silence. As we approach Eating Disorder Awareness Week, it is crucial to shed light on these unseen struggles and promote inclusivity in our understanding of disordered eating.

Black body positive dietitian, registered dietitian nutritionist

Eating Disorders in Larger Bodies

I’ve always been heavier than most of my peers and I’ve been classified as overweight and obese almost my entire life. I would see those weight loss commercials and ads that only featured extremely thin models and instantly felt that something was terribly wrong with my body. Because of this feeling, I began to try any and everything to lose weight—even if the method was unhealthy, it didn’t matter. I just wanted to be thin. I wanted validation from others. I wanted respect.

I spent days secretly tracking every morsel of food to determine if I was “good” or “bad.” I went several days, almost weeks, without eating and disguised it as “fasting.” When I finally started to lose weight, I began to receive compliments from others. I even received encouragement from my doctor and was told to “keep it up.” No one asked about my weight loss methods—they just saw a plus sized individual losing weight and getting “healthier.” Because being thin in a diet-obsessed society is the only thing that mattered. 

Society’s preconceived notions about body size and health contribute to the widespread misconception that eating disorders only affect individuals in smaller bodies. According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), people in larger bodies are half as likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder compared to those whose bodies are classified as normal or underweight.  

Eating disorders in larger bodies often go undetected due to weight stigma and harmful stereotypes. Individuals in larger bodies are often praised for engaging in disordered eating patterns and harmful behaviors, such as skipping meals or rapid weight loss. Instead of characterizing these behaviors as potentially harmful, they are viewed as having a strong sense of willpower and discipline—reinforcing the damaging cycle of unhealthy practices and self-harm.

Black Communities and Eating Disorders

Within the Black community, eating disorders are also frequently underdiagnosed and overlooked. Cultural factors, systemic barriers, and historical contexts contribute to this disparity. According to ANAD, Black individuals are less likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, despite experiencing comparable rates of disordered eating behaviors. 

Reasons Eating Disorders Often Go Undetected in Black Individuals:

  • Stigma and Misconceptions:

Stigma surrounding mental health remains pervasive in many communities, including the Black community. There may be a fear of judgment or negative perceptions associated with seeking help for mental health issues or acknowledging the presence of an eating disorder.

  • Cultural Norms and Expectations:

Cultural norms and expectations for Black individuals are often emphasize strength, resilience, and self-reliance. Expressing vulnerability or admitting to struggling with mental health challenges and/or eating disorders may be viewed as weak or fragile. 

  • Lack of Representation:

Limited representation of Black individuals in discussions around eating disorders in mainstream media and healthcare can contribute to a sense of isolation. When people don’t see themselves reflected in these conversations, it may perpetuate the belief that these issues are not relevant to or common within their community.

  • Access to Mental Health Resources:

Disparities in access to resources, including therapy and counseling services, can hinder open discussions about eating disorders. Limited access to culturally competent mental health professionals and eating disorder specialists may contribute to a lack of awareness and understanding.

  • Religious and Spiritual Beliefs:

Strong ties to religious and spiritual beliefs within the Black community may lead some individuals to turn to faith as a primary source of support. While spirituality can be a valuable coping mechanism, it may sometimes deter individuals from seeking professional assistance.

The misconception that thinness is synonymous with health, unfortunately, remains prevalent. Weight loss continues to be associated with an improved well-being, regardless of the methods used to achieve it. Having a larger body or coming from a diverse cultural background should not be seen as a justification or permission to engage in harmful eating habits and behaviors.

As we move forward, it is extremely important to recognize the diverse faces of eating disorders. By addressing the specific challenges faced by individuals in larger bodies and the Black community, we can break the silence surrounding eating disorders and pave the way for a more supportive and understanding future. This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and every week, let’s commit to fostering an environment where everyone, regardless of their body size or cultural background, feels seen, heard, and supported. Let’s continue to challenge stigmas and advocate for increased representation of diverse experiences in conversations about eating disorders. And last but certainly not least, let’s work together to shift societal attitudes toward a more inclusive and compassionate society.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, know someone struggling with an eating disorder, or would like more information, you can find support and resources from the list below:

National Eating Disorders Association offers a wide range of resources, including information on types of eating disorders, treatment options, and recovery support.

Eating Disorders Hope provides articles, treatment resources, recovery tools, and a supportive community for individuals and their loved ones.

Academy for Eating Disorders is an international professional association committed to research, education, treatment, and prevention of eating disorders. Their website offers resources for both professionals and the general public.

Eating Disorder Hope provides resources, educational materials, and a directory of treatment centers to support individuals on their recovery journey.

Project HEAL focuses on providing treatment access, support, and resources for those struggling with eating disorders. They also have a recovery blog and online support communities

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