Reflections on the Weight Stigma Conference 2016

I’ve set myself a bit of an unrealistic conference schedule this year; with that in mind, I thought that if I’m going to write conference recaps at all, I had better do them immediately. Otherwise, I’m likely to forget where I heard a little gem or misattribute some brilliance – can you think of anything worse than misattributed brilliance? (I’m sure you can.)

This week I had the pleasure of attending the 4th annual Weight Stigma Conference in Vancouver, BC. As I write this, I’m still sitting staring at the beautiful mix of mountains and beaches that makes Vancouver a spectacular place to conference. I was also – in the interest of full disclosure around my largely positive views of the conference – on the organizing committee for the conference. I will say, though, that I don’t think my opinion would be different had I not had some say … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 6

I thought about writing a post about the factor structure of popular eating disorder scales to celebrate my completion of an advanced statistics course in structural equation modelling. When I sat down to read some articles about that, though, I found myself side-tracked– and thoroughly uninterested in deconstructing scale psychometrics. So with a promise to do that at some point, I return to a favourite topic of mine: culture and eating disorders.

When I was writing about culture and eating disorders for the blog last year, I received quite a few requests for articles about eating disorders in developing countries. I suspect that the desire for this kind of article stems from a need to highlight (for the doubters) that eating disorders are serious mental health issues that can impact anyone who is predisposed, regardless of whether they live in a media-saturated landscape or not. As I noted in … Continue reading →

Many Types of Expertise: Recovered Therapists Reflecting on Recovery

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of noise in the social media sphere about whether or not those who have recovered from eating disorders should be treating eating disorders. Some have come out on the side of saying definitely not, listing reasons like the potential for bias, countertransference (the therapist making assumptions about clients’ emotions/experiences) or triggering. Others suggest that therapists who have “been there” can empathize with patients in a way that those who have not struggled with food cannot approximate.

Tetyana blogged about the lifetime prevalence of eating disorder professionals in recovery in 2013; she wrote about a 2002 study that revealed that around 33% of women and 2% of men treating eating disorders had a history of an eating disorder themselves. I have also written on the subject before (here); I focused on a 2013 study looking at experiences that recovered clinicians held in … Continue reading →

Whose Weight Are You Watching? Schools, Surveillance, and Eating Disorder Prevention

Health class in school is an experience few of us would like to repeat, I’m sure. Though it’s been a good many years since I was subjected to the joys of health education, I continue to think about the types of lessons I had, particularly about eating disorders, and how lacking these were. I can only imagine that things have gotten progressively worse with the focus on the “obesity epidemic” that is so pervasive today.

In one of my favourite articles ever, Pinhas et al. (2013) outline some issues with healthy curricula related to “healthy eating” in schools in the wake of obesity rhetoric. These include:

  • The simplistic “energy in, energy out” message can be highly problematic for some children, who may take this to mean they need to engage in restrictive behaviours
  • Without addressing weight stigmatization in schools, messages about health hold little purchase, and tend to
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What Are You Re-covering? Critical Conversations About Eating Disorder Recovery

As usually happens, when I spill my brain out onto Twitter I end up having some minor (or, let’s face it, major) discussions and disagreements with other Twitterites. It’s both a wonderful and a stressful experience, in part because one of the hazards of the medium is its rapid-fire and protracted style. Inevitably, discussions lose their nuance and some of what I am advocating for gets lost in the ether.

The latest discussion centered around recovery and how it is portrayed in the literature. I’ve been working on a meta-analysis of recovery studies, and commented that I was tired of the way that researchers tend to write about recovery as “becoming whole” or finding oneself. Because I am a critical researcher and a generally squeaky wheel, and based on some research I’ve done, I question whether this framing is helpful for all of those who have recovered/are in recovery/want to … Continue reading →

Let’s Talk about Systems Level Change for Eating Disorders

This past Wednesday, January 27th, was Bell Let’s Talk day in Canada. In case you’re unfamiliar with the campaign, Bell Canada (a telecom company) donates 5 cents to mental health awareness initiatives for every social media post or text with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. In general, the campaign has been lauded for its contribution to decreasing shame and stigma around mental illness, which is awesome. There are a number of critics, though, who point out that:

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The Stigma is Real: Self-Blame and Explanations for Eating Disorders

Stigma is a real thing. There you go, the most profound statement I’ve ever written. In all seriousness though, there’s a big stigma problem around eating disorders, and not all of it is imposed from the outside. Many people with eating disorders also self-stigmatize, feeling responsible for their disorder (Holliday, Wall, Treasure & Weinman, 2005 wrote more about this). Other stigma is externally imposed; for instance, the widely held (and erroneous) belief that eating disorders are only something vain young girls get or that they are a choice.

Stigma around eating disorders sometimes differs betweens diagnoses, and especially between eating disorders and other mental illnesses – for instance, Roehrig and McLean (2010) found that eating disorders (both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) were more stigmatized than depression, and that eating disorder stigma uniquely (and horribly) included a certain degree of envy. The stigma associated with AN is … Continue reading →

Eating Disorders & Socioeconomic Status in the Community

The assumption that eating disorders only impact young, white, affluent women seems so out dated as to be laughable – and yet somehow this image persists, one of the most prominent stereotypes about eating disorders. It’s a damaging stereotype on so many levels; as we know, stereotypes about who might suffer from an eating disorder can lead people to feel that they don’t actually have an eating disorder and de-legitimizing their distress. The stigma that stems from having a body not expected to have an eating disorder can lead people to avoid seeking treatment out of fear of being dismissed by doctors, not thinking the type of treatment on offer will be appropriate or helpful, and more. Somehow, in the face of this, the image of the privileged and vain young woman who chooses to not eat marches on. And it is a shame.

Researchers are exploring stereotypes such as … Continue reading →

Eating Disorders: What’s Feminism Got to Do With It?

There has been a lot of talk in the Twittersphere lately about feminism and eating disorders. Because I live and breathe my feminism and my eating disorder research and activism, I’ve been struggling to reconcile my commitment to making sure people feel heard and my commitment to clarifying what I feel are misconceptions about the links between feminism and eating disorders.

Certainly, it can’t be denied that some have adopted the name “feminism” and supported some decidedly shady claims or research. Then again, people of all stripes have done shady research with questionable motives and outcomes. Science and research are never neutral. Everything from what is seen as being “important enough” to study to how results are interpreted and used takes place in a socio-political context. Try as we might, we can’t fully remove ourselves from our research, whether we research micro-RNA or eating disorders (or both? It’s probably possible … Continue reading →

Plenty of Reasons to Sit Still: The Problem(s) with Fitspiration

I can’t quite believe that I have yet to write a post here about fitspiration, given the ire that it provokes in me. And there you have it, right off the bat, my bias: I find fitspiration to be incredibly problematic – this will be controversial, but I often wonder if it could be more dangerous than thinspiration, in its subtleness. Fitspiration posts closely resemble what we are asked to do with our bodies every single day: eat “clean,” work out in a gym, put mind over matter, be productive, and succeed. Unlike thinspiration, these messages target a wide demographic of people with and without eating disorders; they carry neoliberal undertones (ok, probably overtones).

I’m not the only one interested in unpacking the issues with fitspiration. Indeed, I’m far from the first to call out these problematic messages (I especially like this article!). Researchers, too, have become interested … Continue reading →