Friday, July 29, 2011

Dispelling Eating Disorder Myths

There was a segment yesterday on the Today Show with Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ann Curry, two women I find to be educated and interesting, that highlighted the phenomenon of 'Mommyrexia.' This is a pop psychology term for someone who is pregnant and struggling with an eating disorder (also known as 'Pregorexia'). This is not a new kind of eating disorder, but in fact a term that has been created in the media to describe someone who is pregnant and suffering from an eating disorder. Perhaps this is evidence of our society becoming more aware of women who are struggling with food and their bodies while they are pregnant. While we know that the media does not cause eating disorders, certainly the obsession with celebrities and their post-baby bodies does not have a positive impact on women who are pregnant and having babies. It seems that celebrities are bouncing back to their pre-pregnancy weight within days and weeks of having their babies, and it sets an unrealistic expectation for women everywhere and is not healthy.

All this to say that Dr. Snyderman made some unfortunate comments yesterday about how 'Mommyrexia' is an "Upper East Side, white girl, obnoxious problem.' While my intention here is not to be critical of Dr. Snyderman, my intention is to undo the myths that her comments are perpetuating about eating disorders. She said that it ('Mommyrexia') was "irritating" to her, and that she finds the "whole thing vulgar" (the whole thing= "perfect babies, perfect bodies, perfect lives"). While I agree that eating disorders are troubling, I don't agree that they are irritating. It is irritating when we get cut off in traffic, it is irritating when people are rude, but eating disorders?? When we say they are irritating, I think it connotes that people choose to have eating disorders. Why don't they just stop struggling and eat a cheeseburger? Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but that is what it sounds like to me. I think we have to be careful with our language because it communicates something. I think people choose eating disorders as much as people choose cancer. The choice of course exists to recover, to get help and to act in healthier ways, but anyone who has had an eating disorder will tell you that they wouldn't wish it on anyone.

I also don't agree that eating disorders discriminate-- the body of research that exists tells us that eating disorders do not just affect white women from high socioeconomic status. That is of course a stereotype, but one that we now know is not true. Eating disorders affect males, they affect people of all different ethnicities, of all social strata, and people of all ages. When we hear a very intelligent doctor say that an eating disorder is a rich, white girl problem, it impacts the way that we view the illness and might cause one to think that he or she does not really have a problem because of how they are perceiving this illness. 

I think it is important to have conversations about the things that we hear about and see in the media, not for the purpose of calling people out on their missteps, but to engage in open dialogue so as to dispel myths and untruths. Trying to undo some of these myths that were perpetuated on this segment of the Today Show might help educate people about eating disorders... and allow those that may be struggling to understand and know that what they are struggling with really is an eating disorder and that they can recover and receive help.

And below, some links to a few interesting articles on eating disorders that have popped up in the last few days.