“They told me that I was too fat to have an eating disorder and that I was cutting for attention”
“Come-on get over it and stop eating so much”
“I've been diagnosed with an eating disorder and my friends don't believe me because I'm still overweight”
These are only a few of the many quotes from a website entitled http://callbs.ca/#home. The purpose of this organisation is to bring awareness about the stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness among teens. It offers materials for awareness events and a wall where people can “Call BS” about various things that they have heard about their behaviour. It is an excellent project but as I browsed the site I was shocked to see how many people had written about eating disorders and the lack of understanding they received about the disorder.
Like everything else in North American society, eating disorders have been neatly organised into categories and turned into a romantic affliction effecting young, pretty girls. However, eating disorders are not that cut and dried and most people who struggle with food do so within a wide spectrum of definitions. Worse yet, many who suffer from eating disorders, do not look underweight and in fact can be overweight or even obese (http://www.nedic.ca/knowthefacts/definitions.shtml).
However, her tragedy began with an eating disorder. A lifelong struggle with her weight led Terri to begin dangerous liquid diets that eventually led to bulimia. Eventually, the harsh effects of the disease would stop her heart, depriving her brain of oxygen and leaving her in a vegetative state: http://mentalhealth.about.com/od/eat/a/shiavo.htm.
There is nothing romantic about eating disorders (any more than there was anything romantic about tuberculosis or `consumption` in the 1800s). It is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat. Since many that suffer do not fit the stereo-type of what a person with an eating disorder is supposed to look like, comments about their body (negative and sometimes even positive) can fuel the disease. It is important for health care professionals, teachers and counsellors to recognise this and not dismiss people who may need treatment.