Updated: Dec 5, 2022
If your eating disorder symptoms have ever been downplayed, dismissed, or outright missed due to the color of your skin, sadly, you’re not alone. The truth is that black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are just as likely to have an eating disorder as their white counterparts. Implicit racial bias, along with many other factors (some listed below), greatly impact the ability of BIPOC to have their eating disorder recognized:
There has not been enough research done on people of color in the eating disorder community
Eating disorder research participants, professionals, and the researchers themselves are often white
Medical providers are significantly less likely to screen people of color for eating disorders
Medical providers often fail to recognize symptoms of subclinical anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (eating disorders that often plague people of color)
Food insecurity, disproportionately affecting people of color, has a strong correlation with development of an eating disorder
Here is what more medical professionals need to understand: eating disorders do not discriminate. They do not care about how educated you are, how much money you make, how much you weigh, your age, your sex, and they do not care about the color of your skin. In fact, according to Eating Disorder Statistics (n.d.):
BIPOC are significantly less likely than white people to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms
BIPOC with eating disorders are half as likely to be diagnosed or to receive treatment
Black people are less likely to be diagnosed with anorexia than white people but may experience the condition for a longer period of time
Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as binge-eating and purging
Hispanic people are significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than their non-Hispanic peers
Asian American college students report higher rates of restriction compared with their white peers and higher rates of purging, muscle building, and cognitive restraint than their white or non-Asian, BIPOC peers
Asian American college students report higher levels of body dissatisfaction and negative attitudes toward obesity than their non-Asian, BIPOC peers.
These alarming statistics highlight the importance of anti-discriminatory practices in eating disorder treatment. The portrayal of a white, well-educated, middle-class, emaciated female is completely outdated and just plain exclusionary from what we now know about eating disorders. Unfortunately, this stereotype is still far-too-often the benchmark for recognizing and diagnosing someone with an eating disorder.
It is clear that the medical community needs more diversity, education, and research around BIPOC who suffer from an eating disorder. Without this, we will continue to miss a key demographic that deserves the same compassion, consideration, and treatment as their white counterparts.
It’s time to dispel this incorrect, and incredibly dangerous, myth around what an eating disorder is supposed to look like, and it starts with education and awareness. “The following list includes books and articles about Black women’s lived experiences with eating disorders,” (Beyond, “Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate”, 2020)”:
Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia by Stephanie Covington Armstrong
Through THICK and Thin and Thick Again: A Black Woman’s Journey with BED by Nettie Reeves-Lewis
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems by Becky Thompson
“When Black Girls Hear That ‘Our Bodies Are All Wrong’” by Mikki Kendall
Beyond “Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate”. (2020, June 11). The Emily Program. https://www.emilyprogram.com/blog/beyond-eating-disorders-dont-discriminate/
Eating Disorder Statistics. (n.d.). ANAD. https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/
Jones, Ginny. (2020, June 06). Racism and eating disorder diagnosis and treatment.