By Lizabeth Wesely-Casella, USA
One of the biggest, and possibly most dangerous, misconceptions about eating disorders is that they are only active in young, thin women who are succumbing to a ‘vanity’ illness. The implications being that eating disorders must make people thin, that having one is a choice and that people outside of this narrow stereotype don’t struggle with food relationships and coping skills.
Under this assumption, people of size, men, people in middle age, and non-white cultures; they don’t restrict, they don’t feel shame and they don’t really need help. Unfortunately, because of this misconception a great many people go through life with untreated eating disorders, some so ashamed that they can’t function and some so filled with shame that they walk dangerously close to the finite line of suicide. I know this to be true because those people are like me.
Before I was diagnosed with binge eating disorder (BED) it never occurred to me that I was dealing with an eating disorder. I was like millions of people worldwide who believe someone like me couldn’t possible fit into that category. Among other things I was 40 and I was living in a large body so it simply never occurred to me that my shame spiral was stemming from an eating disorder. I simply don’t ‘look like’ I have one. And there lies the problem.
I started BingeBehavior.com because I wanted to create an information aggregation website to distribute high quality information to people for free. I thought it was really important to spread the word that eating disorders, specifically BED, are real and treatable, genetically based, mental health issues. I wanted to go beyond the stereotype thin, white, young, woman and let people know that “she” doesn’t even begin to represent the many types of eating disorders or the people who struggle with them.
Small voices together make a loud voice
This is why I’m so honored to be a member of the World Eating Disorders Action Day #WeDoAct Steering Committee and BingeBehavior.com is a proud partner organization as well. My work is small in scale, but with the powerful voices and many arms of the 130+ partner organizations worldwide, we can send a message during the upcoming inaugural World Eating Disorders Action Day, June 2. The message is:
Eating disorders are indiscriminate, striking people of all nations, all ages, all cultures. They are a mental health issues with genetic components and they are treatable.
There are myriad issues to tackle surrounding the basic ED awareness campaign. Some of which include access to care, insurance coverage, size discrimination, weight bias and lack of compassionate treatment for both thin and large bodies. This list is multi-layered because of social justice and cultural components too, such as how best can we address eating disorders in communities impacted by poverty, or limited educational resources? How do we assist people with eating disorders who have familial cultures that shun mental health assistance? Or here in America, how to we impact our advertising and media business models so that it is less lucrative to use Photoshop on bodies, or employ other methods to build up the unrealistic thin ideal.
There is much to do surrounding awareness, and there is a great deal to discuss as these concepts build on one another.
How you can participate in World Eating Disorders Action Day
If you are interested in volunteering for this first year’s event, visit the Facebook page World Eating Disorders Day or follow the hash tag #WeDoAct on Twitter. On June 2nd, there will be Tweetchats and other ‘virtual activities’ which you can participate in, and then we can all build toward coordinated action in our communities as we move forward in the years to come.
Together, we can change the way people look at and think about eating disorders, because together, we embody action and change.
Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is a weight stigma prevention advocate and a binge eating disorder expert. She works in Washington, DC as a coalition builder and a speaker addressing the impact that size discrimination has on our economy, education and labor pools as well as the profound effects on those with eating disorders.
As a speaker, Lizabeth blends science, humor and cultural wisdom to engage her audience, creating a clear understanding of where health disconnects from body shape and that neither impact personal value or character.
Lizabeth’s weight stigma prevention advocacy has allowed her to speak in the Senate, in film and on radio. Her advocacy work has impacted program design from college campuses to the White House in an effort to prevent weight bias and stigma in programs including Let’s Move!.
Lizabeth lives in Washington DC with her husband and her spoiled puppy Pumpkin.
Visit her website at www.BingeBehavior.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LizabeththeAdvocate or on Twitter @BingeBehavior.
Join Lizabeth in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.