What did you think about when you were 10 years old? Your bike? A video game? A cute guy or girl in your English class? A recent study by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) made a disturbing discovery. As much as 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.*
Our nation is a nation obsessed with body image, and it’s having a negative impact on teens and young adults. Over one half of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives. These sorts of ideas and behaviors can lead to long-term problems with devastating consequences.
Eating disorders can share some of the same characteristics that we discuss on this website in terms of dating abuse. We wanted to highlight some of the similarities.
Hidden Victims: When someone is suffering from an eating disorder, a lot of effort is made to deny what is going on. Often, unhealthy actions (like binging and purging) take place in secrecy. This can be from feeling ashamed of their actions or the need to feel in control of how they are seen to others.
In unhealthy relationships, the victim will downplay the abusive parts of the relationship to friends and family, sometimes out of guilt and embarrassment. Typically, the most violent abuse will happen when no one else is around.
In both cases, since family and friends are often not cued into the situation, those suffering can easily feel alone and helpless.
Female-Only Myth: Most people mistakenly think that only females are affected by eating disorders and dating abuse. However, recent statistics show that men make up 10% of all those with eating disorders**, and the number of male victims who speak up continues to grow.
This myth about dating abuse and eating disorders continues because of stereotypes. The idea that the “ideal” guy should be strong and muscular without having to worry about dieting places unrealistic pressures on guys to achieve this image, forcing them into eating disorders. If you asked most people what dating abuse looks like, they would describe a guy hitting or punching a girl. Combined with the false idea that dating abuse can only be physical, this image makes it seem like guys never experience abuse in relationships.
Since this myth continues because of stereotypes, guys typically don’t seek out resources because they don’t think that help exists or out of fear that it’s unmanly .
Power and Control: A person becomes abusive in a relationship to have power and control over their partner. Power and control impacts those who are abused in a relationship by taking away their rights and freedoms. As the relationship continues, power and control tends to get worse and can get to the point where one person has control over all aspects of their partner’s life. Besides experiencing a lack of control, a person being abused can feel depressed, angry, lonely, and have low self-esteem.
These effects of power and control can lead the person being abused to develop an eating disorder. An eating disorder is developed by the victim to try to regain some of the control they are losing because of their relationship. These feelings of helplessness are not the only cause of eating disorders. Other factors such as the societal pressure to be thin or being bullied about weight can cause people to form eating disorders, mainly in an effort to gain back control they are losing.
The damaging effects of power and control in relationships can directly contribute to a victim developing an eating disorder.
Dating abuse and eating disorders directly affect each other and share many common barriers that block these issues from being properly addressed. For these reasons and more, now is a great time to speak out and take action against eating disorders. February 20-26 is National Eating Disorders Association Awareness Week and the folks at NEDA have put together a lot of great resources and activities to engage people in your school and community. Be sure to read our Q&A with Susie Roman, Program Manager at the National Eating Disorders Association. Also, follow the links below to find out more information. Many thanks to NEDA for all that they do to keep teens healthy and happy.