“No” To More Than Just Food

2/17/19
Writer: Alyssa Gutierrez
Editor: Mike Esposito
Reader: Mike Esposito
Producer: Mike Esposito
Photographer: Gracie Beth

My name is Alyssa Gutierrez and I'm a 16-year old passionate about eating disorder recovery. I strive to help others find the light that hid from me for so long. No one should have to endure such painful and harrowing behaviors as I did. I, along with others, are encouraging you to start and continue recovery. Read more about my story here and how I'm raising awareness of eating disorders in the Latino community.___In today’s society, especially focusing on the eating disorder field, the media continues to focus on Caucasian women with eating disorders. The media persistently encourages the false idea that other races/ethnicities, especially Hispanics, are immune to eating disorders. This idea is nothing but false. Eating disorders affect everyone — every race, every gender, every ethnicity, every age, and every socioeconomic group. Especially in cultures that revolve around food, such as the Hispanic culture. In the Latino community, food has so much meaning behind it — so much passion. It's more than a mealtime — life is revolved around it. Food is so sacred — it isn't wasted. Food demonstrates love; for example, if one is loved by their grandma, the grandma will show her love through food. This causes the individual to feel guilty saying “no” because they are saying “no” to more than just food — they are saying “no” to love. A family member will not hug the loved one but rather feed them. Typically, reunions involve a variety of foods, snacks, desserts, and pastries. Families bring up conversations as they are ingesting food and different types of juices, shakes, or drinks. They bring up life circumstances, obstacles, family problems, or minuscule problems while eating.  Furthermore, when an individual from a Latino community enters a caucasian institution, they suddenly realize the eating norms are different. For instance, Latinos come to the conclusion that people in a caucasian institution do not eat in portions larger than the norm — they don’t often follow the meals with a dessert nor do they involve three courses. In the United States, food is often seen as an element that is meant to sustain an individual. In the Latino community, food is incorporated into the culture — it’s part of life. The different eating routines often increase peer pressure. Frequently, Latinos try to change their eating habits in order to adapt to the American culture because they feel as if they are not beautiful enough or contain worth according to the American standards. An example of this is: they can attempt to minimize their food intake in order to fit into the standards of the American society. Or, they can begin exhausting themselves through exercising to fit the body type of the American standards. When both of these cultures begin to mesh together, negative consequences often occur. For instance, the body type of the Latino community is curvier. In American society, people expect individuals to be stick-thin with protruding bones and a large thigh gap. When a Latino enters an institution like this, they often times do the extreme in order to achieve a body type that reaches those standards. Eventually developing into an eating disorder, they begin restricting, begin finding negative ways to “fix” their flaws or dislikes about their body, or begin finding ways to fit into today’s society. Most of the time, Latinos want to fit into the American society because they come from an extremely different culture with a different set of beliefs, rules, and customs. Latinos will begin feeling left out. They begin feeling lonely, which leads to feelings of guilt, depression, sadness, and worthlessness — provoking isolation; isolation from the rest of the world and causing the individual to be consumed by the negative thoughts. On the other side — the Latino culture, the family has a major impact on their loved ones thought process, the way of doing things, and morals. In addition, the major impact can influence whether or not an individual suffering from a mental illness seeks help. Family members tend to be less educated and aware of eating disorders. This often leads to increasing difficulties and can result in the fear of seeking treatment or help. Religion also plays a significant role in the Latino community, that is, most people identifying as Roman Catholics. The Latinos have a very assertive, close, and personal relationship with God — this tight relationship helps families overcome obstacles and battles. As a result, this connection may help individuals seek help and be gifted strength and courage to combat such conflicts. Connected to this concept, a priest may be the first source of contact by the individual’s family or individual when they are suffering from body image issues or battling against the eating disorder. However, in the Catholic faith, the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore unavoidable are present. This causes recovery to be a more passive journey. Some individuals fear the persecution due to religion, they fear they will become distant from their God, or they become afraid that they will not be supported by the members of their religion.  Thankfully, many individuals are raising awareness and providing hope towards people struggling with eating disorders in the Latino community. Many Latino celebrities such as Demi Lovato are revealing their struggles with an eating disorder to the public. This exposure has provoked hope within people struggling with a similar situation. As brave, victorious individuals continue to make their struggles known and are strong advocates of ending the stigma towards mental illnesses, they will trigger confidence and courage within the people to obtain help. There is a light that recovery provides — a light that not only brings an individual a smile and laughter but helps them regain them their life. There are professionals, educated mental health professionals who are aware of the cultural implications and boundaries that can lure the people suffering towards hope, peace, and relief. I, along with various others, have full confidence that an individual suffering from an eating disorder has the potential, strength, and power and fight such an exhausting, horrific disease. It's not easy, but recovery will never hurt an individual as much as the eating disorder will nor will it ever take away as much as the eating disorder has.