Looking in from the outside, it can be difficult to understand an eating disorder. Why would anyone want to throw up, starve themselves, binge until they hurt, or feel tortured by food?
But eating disorders serve a purpose for those who suffer from them. After all, Psychology 101 teaches us that behavior exists because it gets reinforced. Therefore, once we understand what individuals derive from their eating disorders—how bingeing, purging, or restricting meets a need—it makes way more sense.
Another barrier to understanding eating disorders is stereotyping. Despite the fact that eating disorders can strike people of any gender, race, income, or body type, the cliché is that of a SWAG: a skinny, white, affluent girl.
This stereotype hurts everyone. Those that fit the SWAG pigeonhole are often dismissed. Their disease is written off as a lifestyle choice for rich girls fixated on their thigh gap.
On the flip side, for those who defy the SWAG stereotype—men, racial minorities, those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and higher-weight individuals—their disease also gets written off and can fly under the radar for years. Screening, referrals to treatment, or simply being taken seriously are all less likely because they don’t match the expected profile of someone with an eating disorder.
While humans of any demographic can suffer from an eating disorder, what ties together those who suffer is mindset. Understanding the mindset of eating disorders can improve empathy, and most importantly, recognition and treatment for everyone. Therefore, this week, here are 4 factors that drive the mindset of eating disorders: