African-American Women and Eating Disorders

African-American Women and Eating DisordersOver the past several decades, research and treatment options have focused on anorexia and bulimia and much of this research identified sufferers as young, middle class, Caucasian, women, which led to eating disorders being though of as a “white disease.”

Because of this focus, for many years, people did not believe that males, Asian Americans, or African-Americans experienced eating disorders as frequently as Caucasians. However, in the past several years, researchers understand that these demographics may have not been involved in previous research simply because they did not seek treatment as frequently.

Types of Eating Disorders That May Affect African-American Women

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 4th Edition (DSM-IV) recognizes two distinct eating disorder types, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. If a person is struggling with eating disorder thoughts, feelings or behaviors, but does not have all the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia, that person may be diagnosed with eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a list of potential scenarios to help people identify whether they or someone they know may be suffering with EDNOS. The list includes the following:

  • A female patient could meet all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa except she is still having her periods
  • A person could meet all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa except that, despite significant weight loss the individual’s current weight is in the normal range
  • A person could meet all of the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory mechanisms occur at a frequency of less than twice a week or for duration of less than 3 months
  • The person could use inappropriate compensatory behavior by an individual of normal body weight after eating small amounts of food (e.g., self-induced vomiting after the consumption of two cookies), often called purging disorder
  • The person could repeatedly chew and spit out, but not swallow, large amounts of food
  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating in the absence if the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors characteristic of bulimia nervosa

NAMI states: “Far more individuals suffer from EDNOS than from bulimia and anorexia combined, and the risks associated with having EDNOS are often just as profound as with anorexia or bulimia because many people with EDNOS engage in the same risky, damaging behaviors seen in other eating disorders.” African-American women suffering from any type of eating disorder should seek immediate treatment.

Black Women and Bulimia

Stephanie Covington Armstrong, author of the memoir Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat, suffered from bulimia on and off since she was 13 years old. She states that at the peak of her disease, she was vomiting almost 15 times a day. Armstrong’s eating disorder was a coping mechanism for dealing with being molested by her uncle.

Research has shown that African-American girls are 50 percent more likely than white girls to be bulimic and that girls from families in the lowest income bracket studied were 153 percent more likely to be bulimic than girls from the highest income bracket.

Get Help for Eating Disorders

The sooner you can get help for someone with an eating disorder, the greater the likelihood that she can recover. However, people often feel ashamed of their eating disorders and do not want to talk them. For confidential, professional advice and help for eating disorders, call our toll-free number any time; we are available 24 hours a day. We want to help you find the right treatment program to heal from eating disorders and can provide you with options, information about insurance, and resources. We are here to help.