Millions of people who suffer from eating disorders are outside the parameters of preconceived notions about disorders like bulimia or anorexia. They aren’t Caucasian. They may be older, or they may be male.
About 50 percent of the patients Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, an eating disorder treatment specialist, works with don’t fit into the stereotyped image of a person with an eating disorder – referring to white, female, and younger in age. Oliver-Pyatt represents the National Eating Disorders Association when she expresses concerns that having an eating disorder has almost become a cultural norm for a young female who is white, while people in other demographic groups may feel they must remain silent about their disease.
In an article from ABC News, author of the book “Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat,” Stephanie Covington Armstong talks about how food can represent a sense of control to people from some minority groups. Armstrong, who recovered from bulimia, said the threat is more severe when they consider getting treatment for ending an eating disorder because some women think they will have to let go of the one thing they can be in charge of.
Childhood abuse or trauma is another factor in the development of eating disorders, says Armstrong. She recalled living in a home without a father as a child and then being the victim of rape by a family member at the age of 13. These events led her to develop very low self-worth, which translated later into her eating disorder.
Yet, when women outside the typical demographics for eating disorders consider asking for help with an eating disorder, it can be very daunting, Armstrong says. In her case, she said getting help meant living in contrast to the image of a black woman who is strong enough to handle anything. Her battle led her to consider suicide before seeking help.
In other cases, women come seeking help in their later years of life when they avoided an eating disorder in their late 20s or 30s. For males with eating disorders, the appearance of looking non-masculine may be a barrier to seeking help. Armstrong and eating disorder experts encourage anyone with an eating disorder to get help, even if it means experiencing feelings of fear.