Common misconceptions and prejudices prevail when people consider eating disorders. One of them is the image of who can be affected by eating disorders–typically white women and girls–due to cultural perceptions and the media’s portrayal. Eating disorders affect members of the African-American, Hispanic, Latino and Asian community just as it does for Caucasians. Women and men of color, gay and straight, may find themselves living with this disease, but treatment is definitely available.
Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are the most common disorders. All three are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the legitimizing source for the medical community. Anorexics deny themselves food, bulimics tend to overeat and purge and bingers compulsively overeat to the point of discomfort without purging. Eating disorders are not rooted in weight issues; they are the result of psychological, mental and emotional distress or abuse that have lasting effects on self-esteem, behavior, thoughts and beliefs. Eating disorders are coping mechanisms used to survive these negative factors.
Members of the LGBT community, especially those of color, may suffer from rejection, bullying, depression, drug abuse, sexual or emotional abuse or negative self-image that could lead them in the direction of an eating disorder. In addition, external pressures from the media and societal norms make it more difficult to adopt a self-accepting mindset. Being out can be overwhelming for LGBT youth coming to terms with sexuality and image in society. Feeling out of place among peers, experiencing confusion or guilt and reacting to disappointment or anger from family and friends contribute to a desire to conform or exert control focused on external change instead of internal growth. The older subset may react to loneliness, loss of family members, financial dependence, illness or depression. Individual causes will be different, but the reactions can be similar.
Even though the illnesses exist in people of color, less research has been conducted on these groups, and most often, less treatment is offered. Stephanie Covington Armstrong may be the most cited African-American author who detailed her experience as a bulimic. Her book, Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat, stands as the first memoir featuring a person of color who spent a large portion of her life living with an eating disorder. After years of trudging through on her own, Armstrong finally sought professional help, which set her on the path for recovery. Many sufferers think they cannot afford to get help, but there are low cost and free options that range from individual therapy and support groups to online chat assistance and mentorships.
A varying shade of brown is that new color more people see in the eating disorder rainbow. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, seek help from a therapist or local support group. For more specific information, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237. The organization can help you find local services for assistance. If an eating disorder proves to be life-threatening, contact a local hospital or inpatient treatment center immediately.