The Importance of Talking About Eating Disorders

mother and daughter having a discussion

By Christa Banister

It’s a difficult conversation to have — why someone struggles with an eating disorder (ED). The topic is often shrouded in shame, guilt, and fear.

And then there’s the problem that so many people are uninformed, or misinformed, about eating disorders. This contributes to speculation and myths about EDs that only fuel the eating disorder stigma.

The importance of discussing eating disorders cannot be ignored. Eating disorder awareness has become a matter of life and death.

But the fact remains that 10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder, reports

For this reason, the importance of discussing eating disorders cannot be ignored. Eating disorder awareness has become a matter of life and death.

It’s time we start breaking the silence on eating disorders by talking about their prevalence, what drives them, symptomology, physical and mental health risks, and how we can help someone who is battling one.

Eating Disorder Prevalence  

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 14 million people experienced eating disorders in 2019.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, eating disorders were up as much as 70-80%, says National Public Radio. Many turned to their eating habits to exercise a sense of control during an uncontrollable situation.

And for those who already struggled with eating disorders, a survey in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62% of people with anorexia experienced worsening symptoms.

Episodes of binge eating disorder (BED) also increased. Despite BED being far more common and affecting nearly a third of Americans, the binge eating disorder discussion is one that has long been overlooked.

What is behind these staggering numbers? Experts believe that EDs are caused by a number of biological, genetic, behavioral, and social factors. However, one major catalyst in recent years is the rise of social media.

Social Media Influence on Eating Disorders

Social media is notorious for influencing the body image conversation. According to, people spend more than two hours and 20 minutes a day on social media platforms worldwide. Consequently, the result has been detrimental to our physical as well as mental well-being.

A study published by the International Journey of Environmental Research and Public Health confirms that use of social networking sites represents “a risk factor for body image dissatisfaction and associated eating disorders.”

As we learned the hard way with glossy magazines, what you see isn’t always what you get. And this applies even more to social media. A person’s profile isn’t an accurate representation of how they look or live. In most cases, it’s a carefully curated highlight reel.

But if you wrestle with disordered eating or are in recovery for an eating disorder, these “perfect” images can be triggering. Even seemingly healthy phenomena like clean eating or fitness trends can exacerbate a condition called orthorexia nervosa.

Likewise, when such a high premium is placed upon looking, feeling, or performing a certain way, it’s easy to get caught up in something reminiscent of anorexia or bulimia. But it isn’t just the misleading imagery and messaging that causes individuals to struggle. People are often more callous and snarkier when communicating via screens versus in real life.

Cyberbullying has also contributed to the prevalence of eating disorders, especially among adolescents. Frontiers in Psychology research indicates that “body appearance is a primary target of cyberbullies.” And for many young people, cyber victimization spirals into unhealthy eating behaviors like vomiting, binge eating, or dieting.

The Role of Support Systems

You may be wondering, How can I help someone who is struggling with negative body image or an eating disorder? Successful eating disorder recovery involves a number of support systems including family, friends, peers, and professionals.

If you suspect a loved one is battling an ED, it’s vital to recognize the warning signs of eating disorders:

  • Obvious weight loss (though there can be other reasons for this)
  • Frequent trips to the restroom during meals
  • Poor body image, including negative self-talk about their size or eating habits
  • Obsessive exercising
  • Feeling self-conscious about eating in public
  • Fixating on so-called “safe,” “clean,” or “healthy” foods
  • Blotchy, dry, or swollen skin

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) contends that family and friends not only play a crucial role in encouraging someone to seek help but also provide critical support during the treatment process. Research shows that when families are involved, it improves treatment outcomes.

Similarly, peer support such as through group therapy is key to overcoming an eating disorder. Meadows Senior Fellow and ED survivor, Jenni Schaefer talks about the benefit of peer support in her own journey:

“I would never have recovered from my eating disorder without my weekly therapy group. The women and men in this group inspired me more than anything else. If they could get better, then maybe, just maybe, I could too. Others in recovery made healing seem like a real possibility.”

Professional support is equally imperative. Because eating disorders are complex illnesses with psychological as well as physical implications, they require expert care. This care may include a mental health professional, registered dietitian, or other medical specialists. The goal is to not only address visible ED symptoms but also the underlying causes of disordered eating.

Seeking Help for Eating Disorders

If you are suffering from an ED, you are at an increased risk for medical difficulties like malnutrition, heart disease, a weakened immune system, cognitive decline, and fertility challenges. In many cases, these health problems can be life-threatening.

The NIMH explains that anorexia has an extremely high mortality rate compared with other mental disorders due to complications associated with starvation. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia.

Therefore, it’s crucial to get professional help. Early detection and treatment are critical to successful ED recovery.

The type of treatment needed varies from patient to patient, but can include psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, medical care, or prescription medication. Many specialized treatment plans incorporate multiple approaches.

Also, it’s important to research treatment centers and find one that offers both proven therapies and experimental ones. Additionally, due to the link between mental health and eating disorders, a quality facility will provide care for co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, and trauma as well.

Help Is Here

By talking openly about anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other EDs, we begin to remove the shame associated with them. As the adage goes, “knowledge is power,” and for those with an eating disorder, this power looks like taking control of your circumstances and seeking help to overcome them.

By talking openly about anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other EDs, we begin to remove the shame associated with them.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, The Meadows Ranch provides trusted, proven treatment for both women and girls. With our knowledgeable, caring staff and proven treatment methods, recovery is possible. Contact our team today to learn more.