The first time I was taught about eating disorders was in my 7th grade health class. It might be strange that I still vividly remember a specific 7th grade health lesson as I go into my senior year of high school, but I suppose it’s not the actual lesson that stays in my mind. It’s me, 12 years old, running out of my class and into the bathroom to puke. Everywhere.

The weird sensation hit me in my stomach somewhere between staring at images of ballerinas whose ribs were the only visible thing, and videos of girls bent over toilets puking out their lunches. Then, the lightheadedness hit, followed by the vomit. 

At 12, I never could pinpoint why exactly this had affected me so much. I wasn’t anorexic, bulimic, I didn’t binge eat, and food most definitely did not control my life. So why exactly did this upset me so much?

Luna Zhang

But now at 17, things are little more clear.  I have realized that my reaction to the stereotypical images of eating disorders I saw was one of confusion and misunderstanding. I knew people with eating disorders, I know people with eating disorders, and they didn’t and don’t all look the same; they most certainly didn't look like those models, singers, and dancers I saw on my health class television set. However, my health class curriculum quickly placed labels on how people with eating disorders look, which not only confused, but upset me, even at such a young age.

More recently, my high school health lessons pertaining to eating disorders are pretty nonexistent, unless I have completely blocked them out of my mind, which is definitely possible. Or it was not memorable enough, which is also definitely possible*. I strongly believe that the fact that I can’t remember any of this says a lot in and of itself. 

But even today, I often find myself thinking back to this moment in middle school: why was I not taught that ten million men will suffer from an eating disorder this year? Why wasn’t I aware, until recently, that being anorexic and being thin are NOT synonymous? Wait, what’s an EDNOS? Why is there still such a significant stigma surrounding eating disorders that health classes, like mine, just further perpetuate?

I never got the answer to these questions, although I really wish I did. But what I did get is access to the internet and amazing sources that gave me all the answers I was looking for. Contrary to what I learned in my health classes, boys can develop eating disorders, being underweight doesn’t make you anorexic and being overweight doesn’t mean you can’t have anorexia, Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified exist and they are just as scary as they sound, and stigmas surrounding eating disorders aren’t going away anytime soon, but I can work to educate others and myself, which is better than nothing.

beer, pizza, meat
Photo courtesy of @happyhealthyalive_recovery on Instagram

Health classes in middle school and high school, although they have good intentions, forget to touch upon major factors surrounding eating disorders, which can lead to confusion and isolation for many teenage boys and girls. And although understandable, teachers often emphasize weight in correlation to eating disorders, instead of the mental illness behind it, which is extremely problematic. Not to mention, the thousands of teenage boys who must feel isolated because they aren’t taught that they can suffer from eating disorders as well.

Curriculums about eating disorders have to stop being so stereotypical, and delve into the mental process surrounding those who are affected by their relationship with food. There is no one image for anorexia, bulimia, binging, purging, or any EDNOS, and until classes begin to teach this, progress in not only eating disorder, but also mental health education will not happen.

Photo courtesy of @renewedsupport on Instagram

*I asked several of my friends if they recall learning about eating disorders in high school and none of them completely remembered, but a few did remember learning about them in 7th grade.

If you ever feel like you may need help please contact 1-800-931-2237. You are not alone. 

All experiences and opinions are my own and only pertain to me and my schooling.