Proud2Bme | “It’s Time to Talk About It"... But How? I’m Calling for Trigger-Free Talk

“It’s Time to Talk About It"... But How? I’m Calling for Trigger-Free Talk

By Marissa DeAnna--It is time to talk about eating disorders. It is time to speak up and share the truth about these illnesses. But not so fast…

There is plenty of talk about eating disorders, but it is not always productive. The way we talk about eating disorders is important because we want to educate the public about the true nature of these illnesses rather than provide a sensationalized view. We also want to create an environment with as few triggers as possible in order to promote recovery and prevention. A trigger is anything, such as an ad in a magazine or a comment about weight, that causes someone to feel as though they should use disordered behaviors. Our culture is full of the obvious triggers, from nutritional information posted in restaurants to images of thinness plastered to billboards, the sides of buses, and the pages of magazines. We are bombarded by messages that tell us to eat less, exercise more, slim down, tone up. But, triggers are lurking in less obvious locations, too. Recently, I watched a video on YouTube about recovery that primarily contained inspirational quotes and images, but the “suggested videos” listed on the right side of the monitor as well as those listed after the video ended included images that were potentially extremely triggering. Unfortunately, YouTube suggests videos based on common tags, and you cannot be guaranteed that a tag like “eating disorders” will not produce an onslaught of triggering material.

But this points to an important issue: even when we are trying to limit ourselves to viewing content that will only inspire or educate us, we can be blindsided by triggers.

In the case of my recent YouTube experience, the limits of technology are largely to blame – if only we could control the video suggestions that popped up. But we are confronted with triggers in mainstream media as well. It’s no secret that shock value sells; headlines that appeal to the human appetite for drama may be healthy for the bottom line, but are they healthy for people with eating disorders or those who are at risk for developing eating disorders? Personally, I’ve found that even well-intentioned stories in the media can be triggering when they chronicle specific weights and behaviors. I’ve also found that television shows that aim to help people with eating disorders and raise awareness can be extremely triggering.
Not only do details such as low weights that included for shock-value trigger those who are struggling with eating disorders and/or body image, but they can also perpetuate common misconceptions about eating disorders: that they are all about food and weight, and they are only serious when they result in extreme thinness or medical instability. We need to talk about eating disorders, but we need to do so in a way that is responsible, educated, and constructive.

How do we promote awareness while also protecting those who are struggling, or who are at risk of struggling with an eating disorder? Those of us in recovery have an opportunity to move the conversation in a more positive direction. Perhaps shock value and dollar signs rule in the media, but we can refuse to participate in the sensationalism that often produces triggers and perpetuates misconceptions.

Still, eating disorders work in mysterious ways; they pop their heads up when you think you’ve defeated them, and issue their commands long after you’ve declined to continue taking orders. Sometimes the eating disorder keeps itself alive, however dimly, by telling us to focus on how sick we were, to share the story of just how destructive the illness became. However well-intentioned we may be, the eating disorder is a stealthy adversary and can sneak itself into a recovery story. Those of us who wish to share our recovery stories face a difficult task – how do we honor the progress we have made while maintaining a boundary that protects our audience and promotes awareness? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to discuss the emotional and mental damage that eating disorders create, and how we can rebuild our lives in recovery? We can send the message that an eating disorder, regardless of its physical effects or its medical severity, is a debilitating illness that deprives the individual of fulfillment and his or her very identity. We can show that eating disorders are about more than calories and numbers on a scale.

Learn how to share your story responsibly. Download NEDA's Guidelines for Sharing Stories of Recovery and their Tips for Responsible Media Coverage.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.