Inclusivity in the Eating Disorder World

The term “inclusivity” refers to the practice or policy of including people who would otherwise be excluded or marginalized. This term generally refers to minority ethnicities and the female gender. Individuals in the eating disorder community are also marginalized. Many individuals struggling with an eating disorder feel stigmatized and as a result, do not seek professional treatment, leading to worsening complications. Inclusivity is the main theme centered on this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, an initiative led by National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to bring awareness, education, and support to those individuals struggling with an eating disorder and to the general public, who may not be able to separate facts from fiction regarding eating disorders. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 25th-March 3rd 2019 and is sponsored by NEDA. This year’s theme is “Come as You Are”. This year’s theme Come as You Are, highlights NEDA’s movement towards inclusivity in the greater eating disorder community with the goal of unifying the field of eating disorders. Inclusivity in the eating disorder community represents all ethnicities, body types, and genders. Educating the eating disorder community to become more inclusive by promoting a message of diversity can help bring more awareness and understanding in regards to the stigma individuals with eating disorders experience on an everyday basis.

Marginalized Populations in the Eating Disorder Community

Eating disorders can occur among all genders across all social classes, regardless of race and for a variety of underlying reasons including biological and environmental influences. For a multitude of reasons, including cultural and societal influences and the effects of the media, the stereotypes revolving around eating disorders are continually perpetuated.

This damages minority and marginalized groups who struggle with eating disorders and may already lack the appropriate care for treatment. Some of the individuals who may be underrepresented in the eating disorder community include people of color, men, ethnic minorities, and minority youth.

Regardless of the eating disorder, whether it is binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa; society assumes these disorders primarily exist among Caucasian, young middle-upper class females; which is far from the truth.

Inclusivity and Body Shape

In addition to challenging the stereotypes that are diagnosed with an eating disorder, it is also important to challenge body size myths associated with eating disorders. These myths are also a damaging perception that prevents many individuals from seeking out appropriate care and assistance for their eating disorder. Eating disorders are primarily thought to only occur in individuals who are extremely thin and underweight. However, eating disorders can develop in an individual regardless of their body size, shape, or weight. Weight in itself is not a determining factor for an eating disorder, yet many individuals may not think they are “sick enough” for treatment if they are not thin or underweight enough. Statistically speaking, anorexia nervosa is classified by the unhealthy disturbance in body shape and the image resulting in the refusal to maintain a minimum body weight however there are many individuals who struggle with anorexia nervosa who are classified as being of normal weight, or even overweight. Contrary to popular belief, individuals who have been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa are usually overweight however there are still many individuals who struggle with this binging and purging who are considered to be normal weight and same goes for those who are struggling with binge eating disorder. Even well-intended public health interventions can manifest weight discrimination. Overall, weight discrimination can lead to adverse health consequences and typically does not create any motivation for change, particularly among those who are directly experiencing weight bias.

Developing an Inclusive Community

NEDA’s message to the population regarding inclusivity for this year’s Eating Disorder Awareness Campaign is, “We aim to start conversations with a variety of communities that struggle at comparable rates to those traditionally thought of as struggling with eating disorders. We hope to offer them an opportunity to share their stories, see themselves in others’ stories, and recognize that their experiences are valid and welcome, no matter where they are in relationship to food or their bodies”.

To increase the effectiveness of awareness, advocacy, outreach efforts, and treatment, working to create a more inclusive community is essential. This awareness includes challenging stigmas and stereotypes that have long been established as truths, but in reality, are harming those who are suffering.