“Melanin – which determines skin color in our bodies – does not protect from an eating disorder” – Marisol Perez, Ph.D.
I wanted to study eating disorders among BIPOC communities in my nutrition graduate school studies. However, most of the research articles I found were among Caucasian women during their early adulthood and college years. I realized that it was an example of stereotypes that only Caucasian women develop eating disorders and a model minority myth that BIPOC women do not develop them.
Specifically, among Asians, the model minority myth “highlights that Asian Americans’ higher level of achievement than any other racial and ethnic group, especially regarding their economic success, academic achievement, family values, law-abiding spirit, and low levels of criminal involvement.” This thinking is detrimental as it minimizes support like mental health services for this community.
However, more research indicates eating disorders are increasing among ethnic minority women, making it necessary to understand this trend’s factors.
A study examining the experiences of ethnic minority women was conducted with Korean college women to assess the effects of self-esteem and depression on abnormal eating. For example, researchers found that abnormal eating behaviors could not be predicted by self-esteem and depression. Instead, abnormal eating behaviors were more prevalent when women exhibited low self-esteem and high depression with their bodies.
Other studies have indicated that Asian women who try to adopt the American ideal of thinner body culture and Caucasian image have also reported low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their facial features.
Low self-esteem is similar among the Hispanic women population trying to assimilate to the American culture. Hispanic women have stated receiving mixed messages on health, weight, appearance, and diet, resulting in higher incidences of disordered eating.
I am encouraged that more BIPOC research around eating disorders occur, but it’s not making it to mainstream media.
As it relates to BIPOC women and non-binary with an eating disorder, the more we can share about the colonizing effects in assimilating into a culture that is not of their origin can impact body image perceptions. Additionally, knowing that anyone can develop an eating disorder, the better families, friends, religious/spiritual, and services can support.
In addition, eating disorders is not just a problem for young women—more growing evidence of middle-aged women and men impacted by eating disorders. In fact, approximately 4.6% of women ages 40-60 meet the eating disorder criteria. This is problematic thinking that eating disorders are only a problem for the youth because other genders and races are often underreported, not giving these segments of our population opportunities to seek mental health support. For instance, Hispanics and blacks are showing more association with binge eating disorders, but this remains quite controversial.
The reasons vary among middle-aged women increasingly diagnosed with eating disorders, from entering menopause, becoming empty nesters (adult children leaving home), getting a divorce, being compared to younger women, etc.). In addition, western society’s thinner and youthful body standard leaves marginalized communities and aging individuals vulnerable to developing eating disorders.
If you are ready to break away from diet culture beliefs, reconnect with your cultural foods, and focus more on things that matter to you, we at Mente Counseling and Consultation are here to help.
If you know of someone who needs more support, please seek help through our religious/spiritual communities, family, and friends.
If not comfortable with those approaches, here are some other resources.
Academy of Eating Disorders (AED)
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
The Body Positive
Eating Disorders Anonymous
Eating Disorder Coalition for Research, Policy and Action
Eating Disorder Hope
International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP)
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
The National Eating Disorders Screening Program
Kransa, J. (2020). Eating disorders can be any color. F.E.A.S.T https://www.feast-ed.org/eating-disorders-can-be-any-color/
Kroon Van Diest, A. M., Tartakovsky, M., Stachon, C., Pettit, J. W., & Perez, M. (2014). The relationship between acculturative stress and eating disorder symptoms: Is it unique from general life stress? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(3), 445-457.
Lim, S. A., & You, S. (2017). Effects of self-esteem and depression on abnormal eating behavior among Korean female college students: Mediating role of body dissatisfaction. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(1), 176-182.
Quick, V. M., & Byrd-Bredbenner, C. (2014). Disordered eating, socio-cultural media influencers, body image, and psychological factors among a racially/ethnically diverse population of college women. Eating Behaviors, 15(1), 37-41.
Stanculete, M. F., Dumitrascu, D. L., Baban, A., Dumitrascu, D. I., Craciun, C., & Popa-Wagner, A. (2019). EATING DISORDERS IN ELDERLY: CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS. Journal of Evidence – Based Psychotherapies, 19(2), 79-96.
Thompson, K. A., & Anna M Bardone‐Cone. (2019). Menopausal status and disordered eating and body image concerns among middle‐aged women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 52(3), 314-318.
Yi, S., & Hoston, W. T. (2020). Demystifying americanness: The model minority myth and the black-korean relationship. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 7(2), 68-89.