I would best describe an eating disorder among people of color as an experience similar to a nightmare where one is attempting to scream and wake up. But the efforts prove to be useless. The eating disorder leaves one drained, tense, scared, and pissed. It is a mental and physical war. Speaking from firsthand experience, as a Hispanic young woman, my outward appearance was the assistance the eating disorder needed to remain hidden for all those years. Sadly, for a long time I was suffering in secret.
When seeking help isn’t actually helpful
Being raised by a first generation family, the primary focus was on food, body, and money (in that order). I recall being fairly young when I met my first dietitian who simply looked at my weight and age. I will be direct in saying this dietitian did not cause the eating disorder. My mother took me due to the recommendation of my doctor who indicated my weight wasn’t appropriate for my age. In my mother’s mind being overweight equated to sadness, lack of success, impending doom and that’s a different story for another day.
Back to the dietitian who at the time looked like a model. She handed me a “meal plan” that consisted of food that was unfamiliar in my home. She continued the conversation by insisting that Hispanic foods were “heavy” and perhaps would be best to abstain. The scale was introduced during this period. I wasn’t aware of the toxicity and power it would have in store for me. For a decade, professionals would comment before and after I stepped on the scale. The experience after was always the worst. And I was left feeling violated with a strong sense of shame regardless of the number.
I wanted to stop suffering in secret
I was able to seek therapists and have sessions, but it was not useful. The professionals were always middle-aged affluent Caucasian women with perfect hair.
I needed connection and it was important for me to find someone who looked similar to me and I did find someone.
After those sessions, I didn’t leave pissed and angry. I felt a sense of peace and that I was capable of accomplishing anything. I felt powerful. And I had many “spiritual awakenings” in sessions.The biggest was my shift in perspective and that my energy was now being used for positivity and assisting others.
My story and experience has helped me assist others who are not believed and suffering in secret. Education is crucial to the individual suffering from an eating disorder as well as their family or whoever they label as family. I often hear, “eating disorders are not a thing in my culture.”
Fortunately and unfortunately, eating disorders are not gender, ethnic, or size specific.
I now create space for the individual to heal and to make sense of the outer and inner dialogue. And I provide what I needed for all those years. I believe that anyone can be fully recovered from an eating disorder, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.