Our Community Educator Shares her Experience with Our Work, and Why Your Support Matters.
Why I Care
Advocating for mental health and promoting positive body image has always been important to me. Before I even considered starting my year of service with the Foundation, I researched unrealistic beauty standards and their influences on how we see people, including ourselves. At work I talk about harmful expectations of our bodies nearly every day, and my growing understanding of the mind-body connection is that it’s interrelated. One affects the other for better or worse. I’ve known this fact for a long time, and now I’m educating others about eating disorders, a mental illness that directly impacts both.
Having learned so much as a Community Educator for the Foundation, I’ve been hyper-aware of how people around me talk about their bodies. I find it empowering when friends open up to me about their own experiences; one because they trust me, and two because sharing stories related to mental illness helps reduce stigma. Hearing stories from strangers elicits further recognition that as a society we have an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies. One of these conversations particularly stands out:
While at a community event, a group of adolescents came up to talk with me. The oldest explained the difficulty of accepting her body’s shape. She told me she would skip meals and constantly exercise. She said her siblings teased her because she wasn’t as thin as them. She couldn’t have been older than 14.
Listening to her struggles evoked two emotions: sadness for what this smart, lovely young girl of color was going through, and gratitude that she chose to share that with me.
Now be honest, were you initially picturing a white girl? She was also wearing a hijab. Does that change your perception of eating disorders? I ask because oftentimes we overlook the fact that eating disorders affect anyone of any age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, and religion.
Eating disorders are prevalent, and they affect two things we live with every day: our minds and our bodies. Caring about mental health means encouraging self-care in others and supporting organizations such as The Emily Program Foundation that enable individuals to do so.
Why Your Support Matters
Half of all people know someone with an eating disorder.
-National Eating Disorder Association
The story I shared above is not an isolated experience. Reports from the National Eating Disorder Association show eating disorders affect at least 70 million individuals worldwide. Almost half of those people are American, including 200,000 Minnesotans. In a MN student survey, we learned that at least 11% of MN high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 52% of adolescent girls along with 23% of adolescent boys experience disordered eating in Minnesota. And eating disorders don’t just affect our children. The fastest growing segment of the population being diagnosed with eating disorders is middle-aged women, and 30% of men in the U.S. have an eating disorder. I could go on about the statistics of individuals being directly impacted by eating disorders, but above all, what summons your support is the fact that half of all people know someone experiencing disordered eating. It’s also important to remember that people suffering from eating disorders oftentimes cannot get better without the support of others. In other words, we are all in this together.
Written by Liz Parroquin