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The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of an eating disorder is ‘any of several psychological disorders (as anorexia nervosa or bulimia) characterized by serious disturbances of eating behavior.’  To those who have suffered from an eating disorder, or love someone who has suffered or is continuing to suffer, it is so much more than an eating behavior— it is so much more than a definition on paper.  It is a heartbreaking reality that without careful attention can turn into tragedy.  A common misconception in society is that eating disorders occur in men and women because he or she doesn’t want to gain weight.  In reality, eating disorders can occur from a combination of cultural, genetic, environmental and/or psychological factors and it is important to be alert and vigilant as to what those factors are.


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To begin to identify the contributing factors, one must first recognize that there are many different kinds of eating disorders.  Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Night Eating Syndrome and other non-specified eating disorders affect people of all ages and genders.  Research by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders says that Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder.  BED occurs in 1 in 35 adults, and only 3-5% of women and 2% of men seek treatment.  This is a staggering statistic.  For all kinds of eating disorders, the number of men and women who go untreated is far too high.  Too many people go on living, helpless and trapped by a reality that starves them.  So what prevents people from seeking help?  Many times, people feel too ashamed to come forward about having a disorder, worried about the stigma that comes with being branded by their struggle.  No one wants to be branded by weakness or insecurity.  This crippling apprehension is partly due to the state of modern media and the pressures of having the ‘perfect’ body as compared to magazine covers, movie stars and Victoria’s Secret ads.


'Too many people are trapped by a reality that starves them.  Use this week to raise awareness and end the shame.'


The National Eating Disorder Association conducted a study of women in Fiji focused on how media affects their body image.  The NEDA found that ‘within three years after western television was introduced to Fiji, women, previously comfortable with their bodies and eating, developed serious problems: 74% felt ‘too fat’; 69% dieted to lose weight; 11% used self-induced vomiting; 29% were at risk for clinical eating disorders.’  Clearly, media plays a large role in how people see themselves – unfortunately, mostly in a negative light.  These dangerous statistics must change.  Educating young people on the beauty and importance of various body types is a critical first step we as a society can take to combat negative body image and prevent eating disorders.  Drowning out the media and redefining self-worth is crucial.  Gossiping for the sake of entertainment, particularly gossiping about others bodies, their personal vessels of being, has got to stop.  Only then will stigma be removed and will a journey towards physical acceptance begin.

Remember: an eating disorder is not just about one’s eating behavior.  It is so much more.  An eating disorder can be genetic or psychological and can affect the way you view your body.  An eating disorder is an illness, not a choice.  Seeking help for yourself or a friend is not something to be ashamed about; it’s brave.  Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 23rd - March 1st.  Use this week to raise awareness and end the shame.  


Meghan Loftus is a freshman at Saint Louis University studying Entrepreneurship within the John Cook School of Business.  She plans on merging her passion for philanthropy and her love of fashion into her future career within the fashion industry.  Meghan is a big believer in the power of lipstick and the Skinny Vanilla Latte.  To see more of Meghan's writing and personal style, visit her blog, Beyond the Boutique. 


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