Reflecting on the 2015 International Conference on Eating Disorders

When I get back from conferences I always have this odd mix of elation and overwhelmedness. This is never more acute than when I return home from an eating disorder conference. I get back to my apartment, flop down on my couch, and revel in the silence- while stewing in my mind about everything that happened, how to make sense of it, and where to go from here.

Sometimes it takes a bit of time to really digest (apparently I can’t write about eating disorders without inadvertently using food or bodily metaphors!) all that went on. So, I appreciate your patience in waiting for this post. In case you don’t follow my incessant Tweeting, last week I was at the International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED). Last year, I had my Science of Eds partner in crime with me, and the year before that she went solo (recaps here and here).

I’d like to begin by saying how wonderful it is to hear people talk favorably about the blog. I love blogging here, and I am so grateful to …

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 1

Often, in writing about eating disorders, you will come across references to how some consider these disorders to be “culture bound.” If you start to unpack what researchers and clinicians are referring to, you might come to the conclusion that “culture bound” means specific to one particular culture or society, for example, modern Western society.

By extension, you might then think that the more “Western” a culture is, the more likely that there will be eating disorders present. You might have seen this logic reproduced in such works as: “Western Media is the Root of all Evil” (note: title does not refer to an actual study/article… I hope).

The way the popular press has taken up the culture boundedness of eating disorders does not always represent the way that it is described in research articles (I know, you’re shocked–not). Generally, and quite predictably, the “culture bound” nature of eating disorders is much more complex than a matter of a transporting cultural values (and thus eating disorders) from one society to another.

So let’s go back. Way back to 1994, when Anne …

Eating Disorder Recovery In a Non-Normative Body

Do you think it is easier for someone to recover from an ED when they have a more normative or stereotypically desirable body? Versus, say, an obese person who will never stop hearing extremely triggering stuff about their body type everywhere they turn? . . .

This post was originally written in response to the above question that was posed to Tetyana on the SEDs Tumblr (you can see the full question and Tetyana’s response here).

This is an interesting and timely question, and one that drives much of my research: I’m interested in knowing which bodies are easily accepted as “recovered,” and how body privilege (i.e., unasked for benefits associated with having a body that is perceived as “normal” in sociocultural context, to oversimplify) might play into the experience of recovery.

Tied into the question, I’ve been wondering, lately: Can one only hold themselves up as a beacon of hope and recovery when their body conforms to that slim middle ground where body and weight stigma is minimal (e.g., neither “too fat” nor “too thin”?). In our society, …

Political Bodies: What is the Impact of National or Regional-Level Eating Disorder Prevention?

When it comes to prevention, I’ve noticed a strong interest in working toward large-scale prevention initiatives. I’ve written about prevention before, noting the potential for unintended effects, as well as schoolgirls’ reactions to and acceptance of prevention interventions (here). But what about the larger scale efforts to prevent body image concerns and eating disorders?

Countries from the US to Australia to Israel have taken strides to implement initiatives aimed at improving national body image (a lofty goal? Perhaps.); you might have heard about bans on thin runway models and airbrushing, among other efforts. We know that eating disorders are not solely caused by thin-ideal internalization or bad body image; in fact, body image might not even be that useful of a concept for everyone, as I wrote about here.

However, improving body satisfaction could be a useful end goal in and of itself. Why not try to help people feel more comfortable with themselves? So, I find it hard to argue with large-scale, national- or regional-level attention being paid to improving body image. I do …

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Useful, Useless, or Worse?

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week came and went (in the US, anyway). Posters were shared, liked, and tweeted. Pretty (but often misguided) infographics made the rounds on the internet. Local ED groups visited schools and college campuses to educate students about eating disorders. To, you know, increase awareness. 

The thing is, awareness is not always a good thing. For one, as Carrie over at ED Bites mentioned, there’s a whole lot of misinformation masquerading as fact. And two, awareness campaigns, even when the information in them is correct, may have unintended consequences, like, for example, increasing stigma or self-stigma.

Moreover, not all approaches to increasing awareness or decreasing stigma are equally effective, and the effectiveness of a particular approach may differ depending on the population studied.

So, what about the effectiveness of EDAW? In 2012, Kathleen Tillman and colleagues published a study looking at the impact of a “campus-wide, week-long series of psycho-educational and awareness program designed for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.”

In particular, they assessed individuals’ willingness to seek help, their levels …

Problematic Labelling: The Case of “Drunkorexia”

Recently, I was browsing the Twittersphere and came across (yet another) tweet about so-called “drunkorexia,” or the phenomenon of drinking to excess coupled with restrictive behaviours around food. After firing off a mildly miffed tweet bemoaning our societal tendency to add the suffix “orexia” to all “new” potentially problematic behaviours around food, I took to Scholar’s Portal to see if academics, too, were using this term. I wondered if “drunkorexia” was piquing scholarly interest, or just circulating in media headlines.

Beyond its problematic moniker, coupling problem drinking and restrictive eating is a phenomenon that might be worth delving into in greater detail, particularly if, as the reports claim, its incidence is rising. Barry & Piazza-Gardner (2012) explored the co-occurrence of weight maintenance behaviours and alcohol consumption, and their article clarifies what people mean when they say “drunkorexia.” I’ll get more into my issues with this terminology following a brief overview of the authors’ study.

Alcohol and “Weight Management” Behaviours

Barry & Piazza-Gardner begin their article with reference to an interesting trend observed by those studying problem drinking in …

Framing Eating Disorders As “Brain Diseases” Might Lead to More Stigma

Many–myself included–assume that emphasizing the biological basis of mental disorders will reduce mental health stigma. The idea is that it will place less blame and personal responsibility on the affected individual.

Still, when it comes to raising awareness and reducing stigma, we need to make sure that our assumptions hold up to the evidence, otherwise we run the risk of playing a game of broken telephone. Given that this is Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the United States, the topic is particularly timely. Those of us involved in some aspect of mental health awareness don’t want to be saying “x” only to have be interpreted as “y.”

So, the question is–does a biological or genetic framing of eating  disorders lead individuals to hold more positive views of eating disorder sufferers and place less blame on “weak will”?

This is precisely what Matthias Angermeyer and colleagues asked almost 1,350 individuals from two German cities. Angermeyer had them read two vignettes about a woman with either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa (see below) and answer a series of questions aimed at …

What’s Wrong with How We Talk About Eating Disorders in the Media and in ED Communities – Part 2

This is a follow-up to my last post on what I think can be improved in how we talk about eating disorders in the media and in ED communities. If you haven’t read my last post, I strongly recommend doing so before reading this one. My focus in this post will be on what individuals with a history of EDs and ED organizations can do to improve how eating disorders are perceived by the general public.

(Sidenote on my last post: I feel I didn’t emphasize enough that I used Emma Woolf’s quote as an example and a starting point. I’m confident I’ve made the same blunders that I am now speaking about. It is okay. I think the important thing is to think about our future actions, as opposed to dwelling on the past. My goal isn’t to single anyone out. Woolf is not the first, the last, or the only person to have said things of that nature–her quote was just on my mind since I saw it just a few days ago on tumblr.)


What’s Wrong with How We Talk About Eating Disorders in the Media and in ED Communities – Part 1

I’m going to do something different today. I’m going to talk about some of the problems I see in how eating disorders are discussed by some media organizations, ED awareness groups, and ED advocates.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything that’s wrong (and there will be a follow-up). It is my personal opinion and I strongly encourage readers to leave comments if you disagree with me or feel that I’m missing something important.

I saw this quote on tumblr two days ago:

Anorexia is a young person’s game and I don’t have the time or energy to play any more.

This quote is amazing for all the wrong reasons. It is so wrong, so harmful, and embodies so much of what’s wrong with mainstream ED discourse. It was written by Emma Woolf. I traced the quote back to this document put out by the UK organization ED awareness organization b-eat.

Let me be clear: I do not care who said this quote, or what was meant by it, or what context it was said in. …

Can Socioeconomic Status Predict Mental Health Literacy?

Is there an association between socioeconomic status (SES) and mental health literacy? Can we predict the extent of an individual’s knowledge about mental disorders based on how much money they make, how much education they’ve received, or how far up the career ladder they’ve climbed?

That is the question that Olaf von dem Knesebeck and colleagues attempted to answer in a paper published recently in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 

The authors interviewed 2,014 men and women, residents of two German cities Hamburg and Munich, using a telephone survey. The split is roughly 50/50 between men and women respondents and the mean age was 47.5. The authors presented each interviewee with two vignettes out of three (one on depression, one on schizophrenia, and one on eating disorders).

The gender in the depression and schizophrenia vignettes was varied 50/50 between male and female patients, but all vignettes about eating disorders (one on bulimia, one on anorexia) were about female patients. After reading the vignettes, the respondents were asked to identify the disorder, in an open ended question, then …