Last week after a tennis match, I was chatting with some of the women on my team. One of them asked me what I do for a living and when I told her that I specialize in nutrition counseling for eating disorders (EDs), she giggled. After an awkward pause, she said, “Oh, how I wish I had an eating disorder! I can’t seem to lose these last 10 pounds.” The other women grinned sheepishly, but I was not amused in the slightest. Unfortunately, I have heard this sentiment too many times to ignore, and whenever I do, I make sure to nip it directly in the bud.
EDs are not a laughing matter. In fact, they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness out there, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. EDs are not something I would wish on anybody. They are ruthless, devastating illnesses that not only take a huge toll on one’s life, but also on those around them. EDs are not something that one can just choose to have for a short period of time to “lose the last 10 pounds,” and they are not a phase or a diet. Most of my clients are desperate to not have an ED, as it has robbed them of a normal, happy, healthy life.
I hear jokes about EDs on nearly a daily basis. Turn on any TV show or watch a popular teen movie and you are bound to hear one. Most often, the jokes are in the form of the characters using ED behaviors to lose weight, such as consuming “nothing but Ex-Lax and water ‘til prom!” or not eating anything until feeling faint and then having a piece of cheese. The movie Jawbreaker jokes about having a “Karen Carpenter table” in the cafeteria, alluding to the singer who died of anorexia years ago. These jokes are rampant, and worse, they perpetuate the idea that EDs are no big deal, that it’s cool or trendy to starve oneself or throw up after eating a large meal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Please, if you hear a friend or a loved one joking about having an ED, don’t laugh. In response to the comment my tennis teammate made above, I made sure she knew that EDs are a serious mental illness and that it wasn’t cool to joke about them like that. Hopefully she got the message, and I hope others will, too.