Hispanic Women and Eating Disorders

Hispanic Women and Eating DisordersThe Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that ten million women struggle with eating disorders. Most of these women are between 14 and 40 years of age, and the demographics within this broad range change based on race, specific eating disorder and life experiences. Self-esteem, childhood and current hobbies or occupations all contribute to the development of eating disorders. Eating disorders were once seen as a primarily white or Caucasian problem, but this may have been the result of studies that did not include minorities or may have once been true but is no longer accurate, as minority groups become acculturated.

Minorities and Eating Disorders

“Eating Disorders and Minorities,” an article on pbs.org, reports that Latinas were once thought to be immune to eating disorders for the following cultural reasons:

  • Preference for larger body size
  • Emphasis on stable families
  • Less emphasis on physical appearance

If these traits once protected Latinas from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, they no longer do. As Latinas integrate into American society, they face the media and culture’s emphasis on thinness and physical appearance. NBCLatino points out that the prevalence of eating disorders among Hispanic women increases with each generation that is here in the United States.

Acculturation and Eating Disorders

Acculturation involves shifting values to match those of society at large rather than maintaining those found within the community. Minority women may feel increasing pressure to meet white standards of beauty and may experience poorer body image and self-esteem as a result. Latina women may find themselves unable to meet the narrow, media-defined definitions of attractiveness, while at the same time coming to value these definitions over those set by earlier generations. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that the minorities, “who were more accepting of white American culture…showed significantly more symptoms of anorexia and bulimia.” While acculturation causes individuals to buy into standard definitions of beauty, acculturation itself can contribute to stress and impact psychological health. Belonging to a minority group puts Hispanic women at increased exposure to experiences that contribute to eating disorder development.

Culturally Relevant Eating Disorder Help

Culture, race and experience play into the development of an eating disorder, and these issues need to be addressed in treatment for a real and effective recovery. If you or a Hispanic woman in your life struggles with eating disorders and related mental health or substance use issues, call our toll-free helpline, anytime 24 hours a day. We will connect you to the resources that will address your unique treatment needs and recognize you as an individual with your own challenges to recovery.