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 →

Poverty and Eating Disorders in Hong Kong

Eating disorders are typically seen as an illness of the middle class, with most patients coming from that socioeconomic group. However, the invisibility of poorer patients within eating disorder research in part reflects the barriers to treatment that they face, including both cost and lower levels of awareness. This paper, written by a Hong Kong social work professor, Joyce Ma, focuses less on the process of eating disorder recovery, highlighting instead the context of treatment. She discusses how family dynamics and socioeconomic status come into play in her encounters with 7 Hong Kong teenagers from low-income families.

While her sample size is very small, it reveals a more diverse — and less body image-focused –disease pathway than most American studies, with Ma breaking down the precipitating factors as follows (patient numbers in brackets):

  • Constipation (1)
  • Desire to be thin (3, 7)
  • Relationship issues (6)
  • Parental conflicts (5)
  • Poverty (2,
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Is The Doctor In? Eating Disorders Training Amongst Medical Professionals — Part 3

The thing about critiquing systemic issues like lacking training environments for medical professionals (and others) is that we have to be cautious to not place undue blame on those who are stuck immobilized between the desire to a) train or b) get training in eating disorders. If the solution to the egregious lack of training was simple, I feel sure that someone would have done it already! What I am gesturing at, here, is that the reasons behind lacking training opportunities are deeply rooted in socio-political, historical, and economic trends and policies. Those providing training and those seeking training do not exist in some glorious black hole devoid of austerity (frugalness, restrainedness) and neoliberalism.

In this post I’ll focus on a few studies that help to illuminate why these gaps in training might exist, including dominant sentiments (in the general public, in government, in training environments themselves) toward eating disorders. … 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 of hope and recovery … Continue reading →

Gendering the Pro-Anorexia Paradox: Men in Pro-Ana Spaces

When someone says “pro-ana,” what comes to mind? Likely, given the strong reactions pro-anorexia websites provoke, you may be able to conjure up an image of what would take place in such a forum. Thoughts of “thinspiration,” emaciated and waif-like images, and starving tips likely spring to mind, alongside considerations of the dangers of a community that would encourage behaviors that can be very harmful to health.

I’d venture to say that it is unlikely that you have pictured a man participating in these sites. Given that we know that men get eating disorders too, and that they may feel alienated in their struggles, is it surprising that some might seek out online communities, including pro-ana?

As Tetyana noted in previous posts on pro-ana (here and here), these sites can serve a harm reduction purpose and/or provide a space for sufferers to openly and honestly share their struggles … Continue reading →

Polar Opposites? The Social Construction of Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa

Some might argue that bulimia nervosa is more “hidden” than anorexia nervosa — it is not always obvious that someone is suffering from bulimia (though, I would argue, it is not always obvious that someone is suffering from any eating disorder). Even when it is “discovered,” BN is often placed in opposition with AN — as if the two were polar opposites.

Indeed, attempts to define a phenotype (a set of observable traits or characteristics) for AN and BN tend to oppose the two and to suggest that the people who develop AN are inherently different from those who develop BN. While I believe there is some scientific evidence for personality differences between the two, the degree of diagnostic crossover and symptom variability in eating disorders makes me feel like this split is at the very least overly simplistic.

What is interesting is how BN has come to occupy a very … 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 the impact … Continue reading →

Hide or Seek? Social Support and Eating Disorders

Social support has been noted as key in helping individuals with any number of health issues to cope with illness and even thrive in adverse situations (Sarason, Sarason & Pierce, 1990). Individuals with eating disorders may be encouraged, as an adjunct to treatment or even in the absence of formal treatment, to seek out social support to help with the day-to-day management of their disorder (Holt & Espelage, 2002). However, not everyone with an eating disorder seeks out social support; in fact, some may actively avoid seeking support during trying times. To find out more, Akey, Rintamaki & Kane (2012) examined social support seeking among men and women with eating disorders.

The authors interviewed 34 men and women, aged 18-53 (mean age 25) diagnosed with eating disorders and used grounded theory methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) to analyze their data. As explained … 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 from two German … Continue reading →

Pregnancy, Motherhood, and Eating Disorders: Women's Experiences

There is a common misconception that eating disorders somehow disappear during pregnancy; that becoming a mother stops all those silly worries about being slim and attractive. This is not necessarily the case, and unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma associated with talking about disordered eating behaviours during pregnancy. Openly admitting to it is an invitation, it seems, to being called selfish and vain. The implication is that eating disorders are something only young girls struggle with, and that pregnancy and motherhood are such big and important things that they should be enough to overcome an eating disorder.

Over recent decades, eating disorders have entered the public’s consciousness. They are regularly discussed, and often trivialized, in the popular media, depicted as no more than dieting gone wrong or overzealous weight loss. Yet these conditions warrant serious consideration because they are potentially life-threatening and can persist for years, ruining individuals’ long-term health, their personal and their social functioning.

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