Since this week, Feb 26th - March 4th, is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I thought now would be a good time in engage in some myth busting around eating disorders:
Myth #1: Only white women get eating disorders
If you look only at media representations of eating disorders, you might come away with the message that eating disorders affect only white, thin (more on that below), cis, middle class women. For example, the recent movie "To The Bone" centers on an extremely thin, white woman, and almost every other character in the film dealing with eating disorders is also a white woman. This can lead to eating disorders being overlooked in other populations, such as people of color, men and trans or gender non conforming folks.
For people of color, racism and colonialism and the resulting discrimination, oppression and historical trauma create a perfect situation for feeling alienated from and ashamed of one's body. To learn more abut the ways in which racism, colonialism, and historical trauma can set the stage for an eating disorder, check out Becky W Thompson's book A Hunger So Wide and So Deep or go to www.nalgonapositivitypride.com to enroll in the online Decolonizing Series, pick a book from the recommended reading list or find an event near you to hear the amazing Gloria Lucas talk (if you live in LA, there is a free talk for NEDA week on March 2nd https://www.facebook.com/events/2068874630017916/).
Trans and gender non-conforming folks can also develop eating disorders as well. For trans folks, manipulating weight can be a way to change their appearance to be more in line with their gender identity, which might provide an important sense of safety in the light of frequent trans-phobic violence. So eating disorder behaviors can play a particularly important role in providing a sense of safety and security, and can therefore be particularly hard to challenge, in folks who do not identify as their assigned gender. For more support or information, check out http://www.transfolxfightingeds.org/.
Men (cis and trans alike) also develop eating disorders. Some sports like wrestling and cycling can promote weight cycling and using unhealthy means to impact weight that can lead to eating disorder behaviors in young men. Our culture's emphasis on "fitness" can also lead to unrealistic expectations regarding being muscular that can lead to restrictive eating and use of dangerous supplements.
Myth 2: Only thin people have anorexia nervosa, fat people have binge eating disorder (or some version of this theme)
People of all different shapes and sizes develop eating disorders including fat folks (note: I'm using the word as a descriptor and not in a derogatory sense). This is something that mental health professionals need to recognize as well because it is unfortunately all too common for a mental health professional to ignore restricting behavior in a fat person or treat compensatory eating as an objective binge without assessing for the difference (note: compensatory eating occurs when you eat a considerable amount due to restricting earlier, while an objective binge is eating an objectively large amount of food - two meals worth - in a short amount of time with feeling of loss of control).
No matter what you weigh, you cannot subsist off just fruits and vegetables. And yet all too often this fact is missed in fat folks, and the fact that they are eating more to compensate later on (ie, late at night) becomes labeled as binge eating disorder without acknolwedging the restriction that occured earlier as problematic. The reality is that folks do not have to have a low BMI (which is an extremely problematic and unreliable measure anyway) or a low weight to be qualify as restricting their intake or be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa if that weight represents a low weight for them.
For more information, check out the Health at Every Size Movement by visiting https://haescommunity.com/ or reading Linda Bacon's book, Health At Every Size.
Important note: This post is the result of many, many people's amazing work to de-stigmatize eating disorder for marginalized populations. None of these ideas are my own original thoughts, and my hope is share some of my learning with a wider audience and then connect folks with the original sources. I've included links above to the primary sources so please do follow up and support these important organizations, as well as additional sources below.
Sand Chang, PhD Transgender, Gender Affirming Care and Eating Disorder Treatment. Presentation given at Eating Disorder Recovery Support Conference, Jan 2018.
Gloria Lucas. Historical Trauma and Modern Day Oppression: How Does This Relate to Eating Disorders? Presentation given at Eating Disorder Recovery Support Conference, Jan 2018.