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: 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 →

Culture and Eating Disorders: The Thin Ideal in Singapore

The paper I’m writing about in this post is a master’s thesis published elsewhere in adapted form as a book chapter – not the usual subject here, admittedly. However, for lack of more detailed qualitative research, it’s quite useful in fleshing out some of the observations in more descriptive studies on Singaporean eating disorder patients. This origin is one among a few other caveats to bear in mind; among them, Isono Maho’s ethnography does not aim to be a representative study of ED patients in Singapore, but rather a reflection on the aspects of Singapore culture that related to her interviewees’ particular experiences. Some of the themes Isono Maho found in this data set, nevertheless, help to supplement other studies’ findings, including those indicating that patients with eating disorders in Singapore tend to:

  • Present with body image concerns
  • Attribute comments and judgments from others as factors in their eating disorders.
Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →