Wellness·4 min read

Why It’s Not Just ‘Thin White Girls’ Who Get Eating Disorders

Black woman wrapping arms around her leg
Photo: iStock
March 1, 2023

About 9% of Americans will have an eating disorder (ED) in their lifetime. That includes people of every age, gender identity, race, ability, ethnicity, and size. But it’s primarily the underweight white girl who doctors have been trained to treat and the public has widely recognized as anorexic or bulimic. 

“If you look at most of the research that we have with eating disorders … it was done on majority white women,” said registered dietitian Whitney Trotter. “There’s still a disconnect in the medical and mental health communities on diagnosing eating disorders … on those who do not appear emaciated, those who are trans, communities of color, or who have disabilities.” 

Why do BIPOC patients get overlooked?

In short: racism. The same biases that contribute to Black women’s high maternal death rate and the misconception that Black women have a greater pain threshold can also leave BIPOC patients untreated for EDs, Trotter said. Many doctors and clinicians aren’t even trained to look for ED symptoms in BIPOC patients. “I’ve heard from so many doctors: ‘I didn’t even know Black people could have anorexia,’” said Trotter. 

EDs can be connected to trauma, self-harm and unrealistic beauty standards. The research on BIPOC communities and EDs is limited, but one study on bulimia suggested Black teens are 50% more likely to have it than white teens. Another found that rates of binge-eating disorder and bulimia were roughly the same among Latinx and white people — even though Latinx patients may be less likely to get treated.

How can people get the help they need?

Mental health stigma in some communities may prevent people from knowing EDs exist, let alone accessing care. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, know that the typical tests for EDs might not flag an issue. For example, if a Black woman’s BMI is not in the “underweight” category, a doctor might not even consider screening her for an ED, Trotter said. 

To get help, be honest with your provider. And know that “you can get a second opinion,” said Trotter. If you sense something’s off and don’t have the words to describe how you’re feeling, Trotter recommends turning to an ED-focused resource like Project Heal or talking to someone from this list of BIPOC providers she’s compiled.


EDs don’t discriminate. So for Eating Disorder Awareness Week and beyond, let’s rethink the biases that can hold people back from getting care.

And Also...This

What's getting cheaper…

Diabetes medicine. Eli Lilly just announced several price cuts that’ll be good news for millions of diabetics in the US, including the estimated 1 million who ration insulin because of its cost. By the end of the year, the company plans to cut the price of Humalog by 70%, while the generic version will be $25 starting May 1. There will also be a $35 cap on monthly out-of-pocket insulin costs for some patients, effective immediately.

Who may soon find it harder to fill a prescription… 

Telehealth patients. The DEA proposed new rules last week that would mark a return to pre-pandemic protocols and require people who get certain prescriptions through a virtual provider to see their doctor IRL at least once. The rules would apply to drugs that are more likely to be abused, like stimulants for ADHD and opioids (as well as opioid use disorder treatments). Patients will have six months from when the rules are enacted to set up an in-person visit.

What’s gut-punching more Americans… 

This potentially serious stomach bug, caused by a highly drug-resistant strain of the Shigella bacteria. Sounds sh*tty.

If a 30-minute workout sounds too intense… 

An 11-minute walk a day can still be good for your health.

Who wants to help QTBIPOC with their therapy bill… 

The Mental Health Fund. Applications open today.

Smart Follow

headshot of Dr. Austin Chiang with yellow background

If you’ve gotten lost down the rabbit hole of #guthealth TikTok, Dr. Austin Chiang might be able to redirect you. Papaya parasite cleanses? He says they’re “garbage.” Kiwis for constipation? Research-backed. You can find the gastroenterologist and self-proclaimed “asstronaut”on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, where he shares “super bowel” content, LGBTQ+ pride, and casual invites from the White House. He can also help you get educated about colorectal cancer, which, by the way, is on the rise among young people. Just in time for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Subscribe to Skimm Well

Sign up here to receive our wellness newsletter filled with actionable advice, expert-vetted content, product recs, and more — delivered directly to your inbox.