For some reason, eating disorders take the brunt of jokes on television, social media, and even casual conversation. While humor is often healthy, illnesses like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder should be taken as seriously as other potentially fatal illnesses such as cancer. Although people believe eating disorders are self-inflicted, researchers are finding evidence that link eating disorders to genetics and the biochemical make up of the brain. Regardless of their cause, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all mental illnesses.
According to a study conducted at the University of California San Diego, 4.0% of patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and 3.9% of patients diagnosed with bulimia nervosa die annually. OSFED (formerly known as EDNOS) has a mortality rate of 5.3%. This is a stark difference from the general population’s perception of eating disorders.
For instance, a few months ago the hosts of the TV show The View debated about which eating disorder they would “rather have:” anorexia or bulimia. Apparently, they thought it would be “better” to be bulimic because “at least you can enjoy the meal.”. After reading the statistics, this joke sounds appalling. Real people die from eating disorders every year from causes like cardiac arrest, ruptured esophaguses, electrolyte imbalances, and suicide. This is not funny, and it belittles the struggles that individuals with eating disorders face every single day.
There is also a meme circulating Facebook that features an emaciated-looking model in a bikini with the caption: “I know Victoria’s Secret, she’s starving.”. It may be easy to laugh this off and say, “Well, I wish I had her body,” but that denotes the gravity of eating disorders. Maybe that model has an eating disorder and she should receive treatment. Perhaps, she has a fast metabolism, but regardless, self-starvation is not a joke: it has serious health consequences.
It is important to remember that eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that can ruin someone’s life. Recovery takes time, energy, support, and motivation. People who struggle with eating disorders have enough to worry about, and should not be the punchline of a silly joke.