By Andrea LaMarre, MSc, PhD(c), Canada
When I think about eating disorders, I think about how lucky I am. By all accounts, I’m in the minority: I am a person who was able to access needed treatment for a disorder that sought to reduce my young life to wreck and ruin. I am one of the lucky ones, in part, because of my embodiment and spaces of belonging.
I am a young, white, heterosexual, middle class woman with an average body size. I have a great deal of support from family and friends, into whose arms I was able to fall when my life was falling apart. Unlike many, I was able to access medical care at a specialist eating disorder program fairly early on; because this type of treatment worked for the inner rule follower in me, and because of my privileges, I was able to recover.
Years later, I find myself in the position of using my privileges to speak out about eating disorders and the need to take these serious illnesses with the gravity they deserve and require. I speak locally, nationally, and internationally about eating disorders: about barriers to eating disorder treatment, about the challenge of recovering from an eating disorder in anything but the most normative of bodies, about the need to see eating disorders as complex disorders of mind and body.
I have a platform, through my research, speaking engagements, and on the blog (Science of Eating Disorders), to share my thoughts about eating disorders and to advocate for change. Effectively using this platform means advocating for systems level change around eating disorders. It means recognizing and communicating that my relatively smooth story is far from the only story, and that so many people struggle with eating disorders unrecognized and unaided.
On the blog, I’ve written about the egregious lack of training for medical professionals around eating disorders (four part series, part one here). Doctors often receive fewer than 3 hours of training in eating disorders over the course of their medical degrees. Even psychiatrists rarely have satisfying eating disorders training unless they actively seek out rotations in eating disorder specialities.
Eating disorders programs are few and far between: for instance, there are several Canadian provinces without inpatient beds for acutely ill individuals. We have very few eating disorder specialist psychiatrists employed in eating disorder programs. Further, the programs that do exist don’t always work for those who seek them. Inpatient treatment is not for everyone, and some experience this form of treatment as traumatic or not focused enough on aspects of eating disorder recovery that go beyond the physical.
Getting eating disorders on the national policy agenda has been a continual struggle, despite the seeming interest of the government sparked by a recent report by the Status Committee on the Status of Women for which I – alongside 40+ others with an investment in improving eating disorders research, treatment, and prevention in Canada – stood as expert witness.
On the one hand, we hear from compassionate politicians that they wish to support the cause; on the other, we face the continual refrain that eating disorders impact relatively few people in comparison to other medical issues. We lack actionable strategies that can help us to make the significant shifts in policy – notably, providing funding for an accessible and comprehensive treatment continuum with support ranging from community-level to intensive hospital – that are required to better support those with eating disorders and their families.
Would eating disorders be taken so lightly if all of those who face significant barriers to diagnosis and treatment were included in our estimates? If those who are silenced by stigma and stereotypes were able to speak out about their distress around food, weight, and bodies?
I speak about eating disorders and recovery because I can do so without fear of retribution or significant stigma – not everyone has this privilege. We cannot simply ask people who are hurting, who are marginalized, who are forgotten, to become more resilient within a system that continually shuts them down and pushes them out. We need systems-level change.
Andrea LaMarre is a PhD candidate in Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses on individual, family, and healthcare provider understandings and experiences of eating disorder recovery. Andrea takes a critical feminist, systemic, and social-justice informed approach to her research. She is also a blogger at Science of Eating Disorders (www.scienceofeds.org), where she has written and published over 67 posts about eating disorder research. She is a passionate advocate for systems-level change in eating disorders, driven by her own experiences and those of close others. Andrea is engaged in eating disorder advocacy at the local level as co-chair of the Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition (www.eatingdisorderscoalition.ca). At the national level, she is a member of the Eating Disorders Association of Canada; internationally, she is actively engaged in the Academy for Eating Disorders as a member of their social media committee and a part of an international work group on establishing a consensus definition of recovery (as a part of the recovery SIG).
Join Andrea 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.