The media’s portrayal of eating disorders is riddled with stereotypes. These exclusionary understandings fuel the illusion that people experiencing eating disorders look only one way, obscuring the reality that people of all genders, races, incomes, body sizes, sexual orientations, and abilities struggle with food and body disturbances. Receiving an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment can be extremely challenging for people who do not fit our culture’s narrow criteria for the ‘typical’ eating disorder patient. Their doctors may not take their condition seriously, while diagnoses and treatments may be altogether incompatible with what they truly need to heal.
Weight stigma, or weight bias, arises as one of the most insidious culprits behind the inequitable treatment we see in the eating disorder field. Simply defined as discriminating against or stereotyping someone based on weight, weight stigma causes very real physical and emotional harm – particularly when it influences the way in which healthcare professionals interact with their patients. When stereotypes disconnect healthcare professionals from recognizing the precious and unique person in front of them, it prevents optimal diagnosis, treatment, and care.
We must remember that wherever the patient falls along the weight spectrum, warning signs of eating disorders remain the same. Frequently weighing oneself, meticulously logging food intake, delaying hunger and avoiding meals, and obsessively measuring food damage health and wellbeing for people of all sizes. The problem of weight bias is painfully clear when we see healthcare providers praising these behaviors in larger bodied patients while diagnosing them as disordered in smaller bodied patients. Fat activist Deb Burgard puts it like this: “We diagnose as eating disorders in thin people what we prescribe in fat people.”
Here at EDRDpro, alongside our colleagues in the Health at Every Size® and Fat Acceptance movements, we strive to support like-minded professionals in rejecting these distorted stereotypes and biases. Eating disorders and body image disturbances do not discriminate. As healthcare professionals, we must have the courage and resolve to demand equitable care for people of all sizes. We are honored to welcome Erin Harrop, MSW, researcher and fourth-year doctoral student at the University of Washington, and Hilary Kinavey, LPC, co-founder of Be Nourished in Portland, Oregon, as guest experts in our upcoming EDRDpro Symposium.Their webinar takes a deep dive into issues surrounding weight bias and the treatment of higher weight patients with eating disorders, aptly titled “What if my patient gets fat? Confronting Weight Bias and Treating Eating Disorders in Higher Weight Patients.”
All bodies deserve a healthy relationship with food and body, and all bodies deserve support in eating disorder recovery. We can and must do better.
Don’t miss Erin and Hilary’s webinar to learn more about this topic, joining hundreds of healthcare professionals at the 2019 EDRDpro symposium starting March 1st! This online event will revolutionize the way we view eating disorders and their treatment and prevention. Together we can change the way we tackle issues around body image and food through non-diet approaches. To register, visit EDRDpro.com. From attending, you can earn 13 CEUs as well as valuable insight regarding a variety of topics around eating disorders.