Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eating Disorder Stigmas

I have always believed that there are stigmas associated with eating disorders, but until recently I didn’t see any evidence of this. And I still haven’t in my every-day life. However, I was seized by the desire to read up about the subject and surprisingly I found a lot of evidence for stigma.
First of all, it seems that clinicians, meaning psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists, have more negative attitudes towards eating disordered individuals than towards other patients. This kind of took me aback, because I’ve never experienced this, and I don’t see why that would be the case. But apparently clinicians get frustrated, have negative attitudes about personality traits associated with EDs, worry, and feel incompetent. It makes sense that they would get frustrated, because to most people eating disorders seem completely illogical, and therefore maybe like they should be easier to fix. But they don’t go away very quickly. This is also why they feel incompetent: when they can’t make the problem go away, they think they’re not doing a good job. I guess I can also see the personality trait thing too. Personality disorders are often associated with bulimia, for example, and those disorders tend to be difficult for clinicians to handle. Over the summer at my psych job we had a meeting once entirely dedicated to the treatment of borderline personality disorder. The clinicians there kept warning each other about borderline patients “turning them against each other” and stuff like that. I’ve never met someone with borderline, but it was unbelievable to me that (very good) professional therapists were so insensitive. Basically they were just instilling prejudices against people with that problem, and there were patients who were coming to them with that problem.
Have you guys ever experienced stigma from a therapist or psych professional?
I just can’t believe that this kind of thing actually exists.

The other part of the stigma is that of society against people with eating disorders.
According to this study  done in 2009, people view bulimia as less desirable than anorexia. They also think people with anorexia are mildly to blame for their disorder, whereas bulimic individuals are highly to blame. They thought that both anorexics and bulimics had a very strong need to get attention, would not be willing to have either group as a best friend, offer an interview to, or rent to. Apparently in their eyes people with EDs are very unlikely to be good friends, have a successful marriage, be a productive worker, or be a good parent. And lastly, people thought that bulimic people were highly irritating versus somewhat irritating for anorexics.

Ok, what the hell? Where do people get the idea that we’re to blame for our disorders?  We never asked for these behaviors to take control of us. We never wanted to hate ourselves every minute of the day and agonize over things that most people don’t care about. Even if someone wants to stay with their disorder until the end of their days I wouldn’t say they’re to blame for it. Besides, even if they are to blame, it wouldn’t help. Blame just increases behaviors, and that makes people even sicker.
I’m also sad that people had such negative views about the friendliness of people with EDs, and the fact that they think we can’t have fulfilling lives. I think it’s very possible for eating disordered inviduals to be good, caring, hard working people. If any of you guys told your friend that you had an ED, would they automatically stop liking you? It sounds like the answer is yes, which is very discouraging.
Have any of you experienced this kind of stigma? 


  1. This is a great topic Emily and yes I have experienced stigmas
    I remember when I was in drug treatment for the first time, it was also the first time that I admitted that I had an eating disorder
    I told one of the other lads that I had anorexia and he said 'Oh is that to get attention?'
    My answer was no
    I actually had anorexia for 4 years and had no idea I even had it so how could I be doing this for attention

    People have strange ideas about eating disorders
    They are so misunderstood
    My own doctor thinks I am better just because I have gained weight
    Doctors don't seem bothered unless you look like a walking skeleton

    I think it's ridiculous that anorexia is somehow considered 'better' than anorexia
    That's like saying lung cancer is better than skin cancer!

    Great post x

  2. I always thought it was stupid. Some other people I knew thought that it was all for attention when I told them, others that I was taking the easy way. I mean, what the hell? The easy way isn't having calories as your worst enemy.

    And somehow, anorexia is considered better because, in the words of my ex-friend, "Those with anorexia have control. Bulimics just throw up what they eat. That's fucking cheating."

    I can see why some people hate Psychiatrists so much now. Kinda. I still want to be one though.

  3. A few more reasons to hide my ED. There's one thing I really cant understand, they say people with ED's just want attention, but why do 90% and maybe even more hide this all. Me first, I cant say I just want attention, nobody knows about this, the only attention I get is when people say I lost weight and I look good, but everybody wants to hear that..Also the part where they compare anorexia and bulimia..I have no words...maybe because bulimia involves purging and many consider that as nasty and disgusting, really that is the only reason why anorexia is "better" but ask anyone with any ED, you would never get answers like that...its a mental and emotional thing you dont choose just have it...

  4. I have. My best friend, now ex best friend left when she found out I had an ED and that she couldn't just fix it. I think it's horrible that people can be so cruel. Anorexia and Bulimia are not lifestyles. They are mental diseases.

  5. The late comedian Mitch Headburg had a joke along theis topic, he stated that "alcholism is a disease, but its the only disease you get yelled at fo having. Damn it Otto you have lupus doesn't sound right but damn it Otto your an alcholic is a statement others would not blink at. I find any addictive behaviors are looked down on, like you should just stop its bad for you. Its a disorder but people think you are in control of it.
    And yes I have seen and heard medical staff complain about patients behavior even when it is a classic symptom of their diagnosis. I always respond when I hear it though with "well remember that is expected behavior, why are you shocked? I mean I expect the patiet with psychosis to talk to herself and the patient with major depressant disorder to not want to get out of bed for breakfast. I then get a glare as my response.


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