An eating disorder is a serious mental illness
An eating disorder is a mental health condition with serious physical and psychological implications, which can be life-threatening. As such, eating disorders should not be portrayed as a choice, phase or ‘extreme diet’.
The use of numbers, be it in terms of weight lost or gained, or in terms of calories consumed, can be particularly triggering either for a person affected by an eating disorder or for someone who may be at risk of developing an eating disorder.
Avoid specifics around behaviours
Providing specific details of behaviours engaged in by any one individual can serve to isolate others affected by eating disorders by suggesting that their experience is less valid. These details may also inadvertently provide readers with new ideas as to how, for example, they might restrict their own food intake.
Don’t publish low weight images
This can be triggering for those affected by an eating disorder, and for those at risk of developing an eating disorder, as it may be seen as an ideal to strive for.
The word ‘anorexic’ and ‘bulimic’ are adjectives and not nouns and therefore should not be used to describe a person e.g. “Mary is an anorexic”. That use also implies that Mary is defined by her anorexia, the other aspects of her personality being ignored. The preferred use would be ‘Mary has anorexia, ‘Peter has bulimia’ etc.
Eating disorders can affect everyone
Eating disorders can affect both sexes, all ages and all social classes. References to typical profiles can create feelings of exclusion.
The use of scare tactics and sensational headlines in the discussion of eating disorders is unhelpful, as it creates an atmosphere of fear around the long term health implications, while at the same time trivialising the experiences of those affected by eating disorders.
Take care when reporting ‘celebrity’ stories
If it is intended to use celebrity stories, it is important to put these into perspective. It is also important to be aware of the dangers of sensationalising and glamorising eating disorders through the use of such stories.
People can and do recover
While eating disorders are very serious conditions, recovery is possible with the right support and treatment. It is vital that this message of hope be communicated in any media work around the issue of eating disorders.
If you have questions about eating disorders, contact Bodywhys – the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland. Where possible all media work should also give details of support services such as the Bodywhys Helpline (LoCall 1890 200 444) and website (www.bodywhys.ie)