Opinion: Those struggling with eating disorders deserve more support

Eating Disorders Awareness Week went by with virtually no acknowledgement. What would a better week look like?


Ally Pronina, Columnist

Most people know voters in 14 states participated in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primaries and the South Carolina primaries that took place last week. However, in all the political excitement, an important issue went overlooked.

Many don’t know last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Many people are affected by various mental illnesses concerning food, so why did it get passed by with almost no recognition?

A possible reason is the stigma surrounding eating disorders. Society views these ailments as something gross or taboo. A common assumption is that people “choose to be that way.” Nobody with a mental illness chooses it.

They all result from chemicals in the brain acting in ways they should not be, including eating disorders.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week provides an opportunity to learn how to think before speaking. “I’m starving” is considered a harmless sentence around lunchtime. However, it could upset someone who is literally starving themselves.

What would be a better way to talk to someone with an eating disorder? While more caution would probably be needed around the topics of weight and food, the way to talk to a person with an eating disorder is just like everyone else.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week should be about providing hope to those who have them, making them realize they are worth recovery and happiness.

While the awareness week is a national movement, it is important in Iowa City and the University of Iowa. City residents and UI students with eating disorders would have appreciated if the city and university had done more to acknowledge it.

So, what should be done? The Iowa City Public Library could have displayed any material they might have about the issue. The UI could have brought in a speaker to talk to students about the recovery process for someone struggling.

The UI did have some events, such as author Kara Richardson-Whiting speaking on campus about the issue. However, better promotion of the awareness week could have made the difference between life and death.

The best way to reduce injury and deaths is encouraging people who have them to get help. An easy way to make them more willing to do that is to reduce the stigma, something last week aimed to do.

The week is also a good time to think about the types of compliments we give each other. It’s not a bad thing to say something positive about people’s bodies and looks, but we should not forget to do the same for their personalities.  As a psychology major who plans to do professional clinical work, I understand how that can be more beneficial.

If someone’s brain is wired to have an unrealistic view of their body, a simple “you’re not fat” will not change anything. While hearing that might not hurt, it also will not change their brain chemistry.

However, focusing on inner beauty could shift the person’s thinking. Instead of obsessing over weight, the person might realize the internal characteristics are what make them valuable and not something numerical like weight.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week should be about providing hope to those who have them, making them realize they are worth recovery and happiness. It should be about showing eating disorders don’t prevent someone from living a successful life.

A good way to show this is people with eating disorders sharing their stories. Many celebrities, including Demi Lovato and Portia de Rossi, have spoken publicly about going to rehab. Both have successful careers and lives. More stories like these would reduce stigma and bring faith to those who are struggling.

People with eating disorders are more than their mental illness. They have passions, talents, and loved ones. Eating Disorders Awareness is a week to look past the mental illness and see the person.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.