Acknowledging Underrepresented Voices in the ED Community

On my Instagram Monday I talked about the murder of George Floyd, black lives matter, and the importance of spreading love during these trying times. My original plan was to post a lighthearted article today, but I instead want to focus on the representation that is often lacking in relation to eating disorders due to these recent events and hopefully shine a light on the many voices in the eating disorder/recovery community. 

As a white woman with thin privilege, I acknowledge that it’s often my voice that is amplified in the recovery community and in the media portrayals. Although I can’t accurately speak about experiences that are not my own, I do want to take this time to use my privilege and spread awareness about who is affected by eating disorders/disordered eating despite the lack of representation. Eating disorders are not diseases reserved for thin, white women- and it shouldn’t be thought of that way.

People of color and those in the LBGTQ+ community are often left out of the conversation about eating disorders but eating disorders/disordered eating can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status. This conversation, like many others in our society, needs to happen and space needs to be made for everyone. If everyone is included in the conversation, everyone will have the chance to heal, grow, learn, and fully recover.

Eating disorders are not about food and are the result of many complex biological, social, cultural, mental, emotional, and physical factors- none of these things are reserved for just one type of person. Here are some important statistics and resources:

FYI…While I always research and try to hyperlink/add helpful resources to my articles, this post is going to be a lot of both of those things and probably won’t sound like my other content and listicles because it is a much more aggregated piece than I usually write. I think these statistics and studies I’m showcasing here are incredibly important and deserve a space on my platform to not only act as a resource, but also for me to do my part in helping to end the stigma and spread awareness for everyone- not just those who look like me. This piece by no means is all of the information out there and I plan to cover many of these topics more in-depth on my blog in the future. I want to open up this conversation! This blog is a space for everyone who is affected by eating disorders, whether their own or a loved one’s, and I invite you to contact me if you’d be interested in a Q&A or sharing your story with me.

According to NEDA, people of color are less likely to receive help for their eating disorder. In terms of specific behaviors and disorders, Black teenagers are 50% more likely to exhibit bulimic behaviors and Hispanics are more likely to suffer from bulimia than their non-hispanic peers. Binge eating disorder is found at higher rates in all minority groups. People of color also may be more vulnerable to eating disorders in general!

The statistics above paint a bigger picture of eating disorder risk factors and medical care. In one study, only 17% of clinicians identified the Black woman’s disordered eating symptoms as “problematic” and were also less likely to recommend professional care. As for the white woman, it was 44% and the Hispanic woman had 41% of clinicians able to identify their disordered symptoms. These numbers need to be much, much higher- especially considering eating disorders have the second highest rate of mortality for mental health disorders (behind opioid addiction). I was overlooked by medical professionals with my diagnosis, but with 44% of clinicians able to identify a white woman’s symptoms of disordered patterns, I had a bit of a chance (or, at least, was supposed to). 

If clinicians can’t recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders within all people, how is anyone supposed to get medical care? Media representation? It’s important for white individuals to be allies, educate ourselves, acknowledge biases, and to not assume our experiences (with ED or otherwise) are the experiences of everyone around us. As for what medical professionals can do better, this article had some good ideas!

When looking at the LGBTQ+ community, research is unfortunately limited. What can be reported is that as early as age 12, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens may be at higher risk of binge-eating and/or purging than their heterosexual peers. Within the adult age group, gay men are disproportionately at risk for disturbed/negative body image and eating disordered behaviors, and although gay men are thought to represent 5% of the total population, 42% of men who have eating disorders identify as gay. Research also indicates that transgender individuals experience eating disorders at higher rates than cisgender individuals. Additionally, there is some evidence that there is a link between gender dysphoria and eating disorders. When seeking treatment for an eating disorder it’s important to make sure for your own safety if you are in the LGBTQ+ community that your therapist, residential treatment center, and other professionals on your treatment team are LGBTQ+ friendly. 

If you suspect yourself or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, do not hesitate to reach out and get help. At the end of the day eating disorders are a deadly mental illness and anyone can be affected. Nobody deserves to live with their disorder, negative body image, food guilt/anxiety, exercise addiction, or any other disordered behaviors. I hope that these statistics and resources shined a light on who is affected by eating disorders and where some of the cracks in the system are so that you can be better educated to be a better ally, healthcare provider, and/or advocate! 

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.

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