Eating disorders are not a choice, but awareness is

Tyler McNeil

Managing Editor

Tyler McNeil (1)Tyler Mcneil | The Hudsonian

If eating disorders were a choice, I certainly wasn’t informed.

For the sake of attention seeking, I would rather pursue an act that came without an undying food-obsessed nightmare.

Hearing “put some meat on those bones” by friends and family wasn’t enough to “change my mind” when I was underweight. To this day, suggestions to “eat normally” have been unsuccessful. Eating disorders aren’t a choice, but learning about them is.

Coming to Hudson Valley in fall 2013, I was feeble, underweight and tormented by stigma. My mind was constantly thinking of new ways to burn calories without attracting attention towards my illness. I was never diagnosed with ‘manorexia’ nervosa, but ‘manorexia’ seemed to be the only condition I had whenever I walked out the door.

Knowing that I might appear “vain” or “attention-seeking”, I kept my condition hidden from new classmates and friends. Wanting to start over from high school, I didn’t want to seem weak during my first semester.

Being at a stable weight, my regressive eating habits have calmed down significantly, but they still haunt me. Scales, BMI charts and calorie labels are still horrifying, but they’ve failed to destroy me. I’m fortunate that my story is able to continue because anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The only benefit from living with an eating disorder has been developing a level of understanding about the brutality of shame. Being one of 30 million Americans who have suffered from eating disorders, beating the stigma against eating disorders is obligatory.

An alarming 57 percent of students believe eating disorders are optional depending on the person, according to a Hudsonian survey last week. Even worse, four percent of students believe eating disorders are a choice. These statistics illustrate how frightening the disillusionment is with eating disorders among students.

Only nine percent of students said that they knew Eating Disorder Awareness Week is next week. Every year, I’ve been disappointed by the lack of awareness across campus for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. While I applaud efforts for having an eating disorder awareness table in the Campus Center, pamphlets are still not enough to fight the stigma of eating disorders.

There needs to be an additional effort to spread awareness through student-targeted engagement. Looking at the calendar of events, there isn’t any event listed ahead specifically centered around promoting eating disorder awareness.

Once every semester, there needs to be a conjoined effort across campus, from the athletic department to all college forum classes to educate students about what eating disorders are. I’m not hoping for everything to be dropped for eating disorders, but I’m always hopeful that educational environments such as Hudson Valley can make a stronger effort to expel ignorance.

Stigma will not be completely erased by a Powerpoint or guest speakers, but in order for stigma to rot away, students need to speak out against harmful misinformation about eating disorders among family and friends.

It’s important to fight against toxic fallacies which label people with eating disorders as “attention seekers” or “superficial.” In the company of loved ones suffering from eating disorders, telling them to “eat” isn’t going to change anything. Do not criticize their eating habits or comment on their body image, even if it is complimentary. Placing guilt or blame on a person suffering from an eating disorder will only make them feel horrible, not better.

People suffering or recovering from eating disorders shouldn’t have to deal with the additional stress of shame in their everyday lives. From campus to home, any time one less person is free from the stigma against eating disorders — it’s a good day.

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