Mental Health is Important: Time to Talk About Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder BELatina
Photo Credit drexel.edu

Superficiality rules our society. There’s no doubt about it. We are constantly being exposed to impossible beauty standards, yet it’s something many strive to achieve. These types of standards may be exemplified by many factors, including that of your family. But the artificial world most of us live in brings out many consequences. One of those concerning issues are eating disorders. Eating disorders are mental health conditions and they are usually manifested through bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge-eating.

According to the Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC), there are at least 30 million Americans who suffer from an eating disorder at any given point during their lifetime. The EDC also states that every 62 minutes someone dies directly due to an issue caused by an eating disorder. It is important to pay attention to the issues eating disorders may cause because it is ranked the third most chronic illness among young females. 

Eating disorders usually bring out an unhealthy obsession towards weight and food. People suffering from eating disorders also view themselves in the unrealistic lens body dysmorphia provides. But each situation is independent to the person. There are many components of eating disorders and not everyone struggling through an eating disorder embodies them. 

Navigating through eating disorders is taxing in itself, but even more so when you come from a minority group. Unfortunately, since the study of eating disorders is still relatively new, there is not much database information on minority groups, such as Hispanics. Most of the studies that exist are based on White women. It wasn’t until 2007 that doctors briefly studied the effects of eating disorders among the Hispanic community. They were, however, able to find a low percentage of Hispanics suffering through this painstaking condition. Since these recent studies on Hispanic women are so brief, we still don’t know in completion how many are actually affected. 

Scale BELatina Eating Disorder
Photo Credit today.uconn.edu

The reality is that it will be a greater challenge to understand the prominence of eating disorders in Hispanic families. Most Hispanic families are often unaware that this mental health condition even exists. Being that food is such an integral part of their culture, some refuse to wrap their heads around anyone being affected by food so much. It is also important to note that eating disorders are accompanied by another mental health condition. Some of the most common mental health issues associated with eating disorders are anxiety, mood, and impulse control disorders. This increases the dangers an individual may be facing struggling through all of this. Sadly, there has constantly been a stubborn outlook on eating disorders by many families and that can be due to the fact that there’s still a stigma around mental health issues in the Hispanic community. Because of this, the chance that many Hispanic adolescents and young women are suffering through their eating disorder in silence is high. I know this because it happened to me. 

Many Hispanic families mainly care about two things: food and appearances. I know how it sounds. Trust me, I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is.  We just can’t deny that appearances play a big role in how our Hispanic community works. I grew up in a Colombian household and this is exactly how it was. But living in the melting pot of cultures that make up Miami, I was able to see how food and appearances were also prevalent in other Latin groups. 

It feels almost paradoxical how much importance food and appearance have to Hispanic families. On one hand, you have your family telling you that you need to eat more to be strong. Yet, on the other hand, they are telling you to watch what you eat because your chichos or lonjas are growing. Which one is it? This can drive anyone crazy, especially a young woman who has only just started to develop her own thoughts. 

I remember feeling so stressed about my body growing up. According to some family members and everything that I watched, I was supposed to be thin, yet curvaceous. That was the ideal body frame and anything else would be atrocious. In fact, I kept being reminded that being fat was not a choice. Apparently, if I gained weight, no one would want to marry me. Like, really? That’s what you’ll tell a child to justify ungodly body expectations? Please note the heavy (and disgusting) machista mentality that I had to deal with. I don’t know about you, but a 13-year-old should never be preoccupied with marriage. Unsurprisingly, all of these questionable suggestions drove me to become anorexic and eventually bulimic. I would focus on one more than the other depending how anxious I was feeling. 

The worst part of this was that people around me were actually proud of my weight loss. Of course, no one asked how I got so thin. This was the best body they had seen me flaunt, so nothing else mattered. But here’s the thing, their ignorance was dimming the lights of a young woman who didn’t understand what she was becoming. 

Eventually, my pediatrician figured out I was deep into eating disorders. I was prescribed mandatory therapy and it’s been a lengthy recovery ever since. Though I am healthy now, some things are still hard. I haven’t been able to look at food the same as I used to when I was a little girl. Looking in the mirror terrifies me sometimes and weighing myself can be a challenge from time to time. It’s a process, but at least I was able to deal with it in time. 

Not everyone suffering through eating disorders has been lucky enough to have had a psychological intervention. Oftentimes, eating disorders can lead people to lose perception of what’s right and wrong when it comes to food. Death is also a disturbing effect of eating disorders. Suicide and the complications caused by starvation are usually the reasons for the deaths associated by eating disorders. I apologize if this information might be a tad bit morbid, but we need to face certain topics so that we may avoid certain catastrophic events in the future. 

Eating disorders are avoidable. But in order for that to happen, people need to start accepting that eating disorders in their families can become a reality. The stigma around mental health issues needs to end too. For the love of everything that is good, people need to start educating themselves on the different types of mental health conditions and how it can affect their families. I know I spoke about my perspective on eating disorders, but eating disorders can affect so many people. Even men can suffer from an eating disorder. 

Another thing that is important to consider is that families, especially Hispanic families need to start being kinder with their own. Instead of berating a family member because of their appearance, start promoting self-love. Encourage everyone to see the beauty in everyone despite how they may look. Nothing superficial will ever make anyone be “perfect.” At the end of the day, what’s inside someone is the only thing that’s important. 

I do encourage you to reach out to a parent, a teacher, or anyone you trust if you or anyone you know suffers from an eating disorder. However, there are now many places people or families being affected by eating disorders can reach out to as well. One of the more common ones is NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association). Also, if you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts please don’t hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Stay safe out there and remember that you are beautiful no matter what.