The Link between Bullying and Eating Disorder

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The connection between bullying and eating disorders is becoming more recognized and relevant to patients, mental health experts, and even celebrities, such as Disney actress Demi Lovato. For Demi Lavato, known for her role on the Disney hit “Sonny with a Chance,” the painful ramifications of having an eating disorder recently manifested with a direct impact on her career. She stepped down from her role, commenting in interviews that she couldn’t tolerate her physical appearance on the screen. She also cited bullying from peers concerning her weight as a factor in her self-esteem problems and her eating disorder. In the worst-case scenario, eating disorders and addiction can also occur.

Linkages between bullying and patients using an eating disorder to escape the negative emotions associated with bullying have been studied worldwide. In a study, 91% of 600 teens or young adults who have an eating disorder reported being the victim of bullying. They also said that their eating disorder became a way of escape from the stress of being bullied.

Demi’s struggle with eating disorders and poor body image began in her pre-teen years, as is true for many women with similar disorders. As early as age 12, Lovato recalls drastically dieting or refusing to eat altogether, resulting in 30-pound weight loss and a body height and weight ratio that caused alarm.

Emotional factors, such as struggles to release tension and to cope with anxiety, have also been part of Lovato’s conversations about her eating disorders, including bulimia. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and rather than keep her struggle silent, Lovato commented in praise for actress Catherine Zeta-Jones who has recently discussed in media interviews her diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Demi Lovato’s efforts to recover from her eating disorder and as a victim of bullying are ongoing, and the work continues on a daily basis, including efforts to help her see her body in a more positive light.

As for the treatment, mindfulness can be a great practice. The formal development of mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and is a practice encouraged in many religions, but it is not itself a religious practice. It’s both a human trait and a practice that helps us cultivate that trait. Think of it as strengthening the mind in the same way you would exercise the muscles in your body. It has been proven to be an effective complement to treatment for a wide range of physical and mental illnesses, regardless of the individual’s spiritual beliefs.

Although mindfulness has gained a broader following in recent years, it is by no means a fad. It stems from Buddhist meditation practices that reach back over 2,500 years. Western psychology has been impressed by the significant body of research documenting its effectiveness. Between centuries of benefit and years of quantitative evidence, all signs suggest that mindfulness practice is here to stay.

Mindfulness won’t bring eternal bliss or answer to all of life’s questions, but it can bring a sense of connectedness and peace to the practitioner, which can translate into fewer self-defeating behaviors like eating disorders and addictions. It also helps cultivate other qualities, such as wisdom and compassion, which ultimately lead to greater satisfaction.

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